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October 22, 2006

BBC Throws a Crumb

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Earlier we reported that the BBC is refusing to make public the contents of a report believed to be highly critical of the outlet's Mideast coverage. It's worth noting that the BBC has released an abbreviated version of its guide to facts and terminology.

Our reaction to these definitions is mixed. An obvious problem is the guideline for the term "terrorist":

Note the BBC producer guidelines which state: "We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. We should not adopt other people's language as our own. Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution. It is also usually inappropriate to use words like "liberate", "court martial" or "execute" in the absence of a clear judicial process. We should let other people characterise while we report the facts as we know them. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as "bomber", "attacker", "gunmen", "kidnapper", "insurgent" or "militant.""

Why is "terrorist" a barrier to understanding while "militant" is not? Indeed, in many cases, especially those concerning perpetrators who deliberately attack innocent civilians, "terrorist" is more factually accurate than "militant."

Share your comments on the rest of the BBC guidelines.

Posted by TS at October 22, 2006 04:21 AM


A "terrorist" is not hard to define. A terrorist has always been understood to be a non-uniformed, non-state actor who deliberately seeks to kill civilians for the purpose of advancing a political or social agenda. Militants are not necessarily terrorists, and it is journalistically dishonest to to call a terrorist a militant.

Posted by: Linda Feinstein at October 27, 2006 01:32 PM

It appears that only the BBC has difficuly in understanding what comprises a terrorist. Unknown persons who abandon a car loaded with explosives outside a building occupied by civilians and set it off with a remote device, when they themselves are safe and removed from the site, are terrorists. Militants are wannabe soldiers who attack military targets and may even be identifiable by some sort of uniform. I am hard pressed to recall the number of "militants" who have attacked weddings, seders and cafes in Israel in the last ten or so years.
One would think that a network operating from within the birthplace of the English language would have the ability to speak it correctly.

Posted by: norman a blumberg at October 29, 2006 10:40 AM

Nothing seems to change the BBC's anti-semitic bias,which predates the establishment of the state of Israel.I do believe however that they know perfectly well the differences in the meanings of terrorist and militant.

Posted by: Leon Ospovat at November 6, 2006 07:19 PM

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