Guardian “journalist” Style Guide related dilemmas: Palestinian “Terrorism” edition

Graphic from Guardian’s “Style Guide” for journalists

As Akus and Hadar recently reported, the Guardian “Style Guide” not only advises their journalists against writing that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, but actually encourages them to lie by insisting that Tel Aviv is, in fact, the nation’s capital.  (This inversion, as Akus noted, resulted in the Guardian changing a photo caption which “incorrectly” stated that Jerusalem was the Israeli capital and, per the Style Guide, definitively (mis) informed readers that Tel Aviv holds that designation.)

Text from Guardian Style Guide

While the international community generally doesn’t officially recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital (due to the absurd political pieties honored by decision makers regarding the IsraeliPalestinian Conflict), neither do they designate Tel Aviv with this status.  Typical is the U.S. State Department’s page on Israel, which contains this:

The footnote is here:

Note that the State Department doesn’t tell Americans that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital, merely that this is where they currently maintain the U.S. embassy.

Subsequently, it’s been difficult not to read the paper’s reports on Israel without wondering if they were thoroughly proofread by the Guardian’s Glavit editors to ensure ideological stylistic purity.

A report in the Guardian’s Sports section on May 2nd, 50 stunning Olympic moments number 26: The terrorist outrage in Munich in 1972,originally caught my eye because of the headline, as it is extremely rare for a Guardian leader to characterize Palestinian terrorism so “subjectively”, as an “outrage”.  But, stranger still is that a “loaded” word such as “terrorism” was used at all to describe the murder of eleven innocent Israelis.

Indeed, the Guardian Style Guide has this to say about “Terrorism”.

terrorism, terrorists:

A terrorist act is directed against victims chosen either randomly or as symbols of what is being opposed (eg workers in the World Trade Centre, tourists in Bali, Spanish commuters). It is designed to create a state of terror in the minds of a particular group of people or the public as a whole for political or social ends.

Does having a good cause make a difference? The UN says no: “Criminal acts calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public are in any circumstances unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”

Whatever one’s political sympathies, suicide bombers, the 9/11 attackers and most paramilitary groups can all reasonably be regarded as terrorists (or at least groups some of whose members perpetrate terrorist acts).

Nonetheless we need to be very careful about using the term: it is still a subjective judgment – one person’s terrorist may be another person’s freedom fighter, and there are former “terrorists” holding elected office in many parts of the world

Often, alternatives such as militants, radicals, separatists, etc, may be more appropriate and less controversial, but this is a difficult area: references to the “resistance”, for example, imply more sympathy to a cause than calling such fighters “insurgents”. The most important  thing is that, in news reporting, we are not seen – because of the language we use – to be taking sides. [emphasis added]

Beyond the moral muddle created by the definition (yes, even when an act can reasonably be described as “terrorism”, please avoid using the term?!), it’s simply risible that the Guardian is evidently concerned that its readers may think the Guardian is “taking sides” in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict.

Indeed, Harriet Sherwood, so at pains to maintain her, um, “impartiality”, strenuously avoids the “T” word when reporting on the region, opting instead for the Guardian recommended term “militant”.

However, not only did the May 2 Guardian piece on the 1972 attack use the word “terrorism” in the headline, but the essay (by sport subeditor, Simon Burton) contained no less than 26 uses of the word terror, terrorism, or terrorist(s), to characterize the Munich Massacre.

The fact is that Burton’s over 3000 word report on those two fateful days in Munich is actually quite non-ideological for a Guardian piece pertaining to Israel or Israelis, which of course means that Harriet Sherwood’s job (as the paper’s correspondent for the city which is certainly not Israel’s capital) is safe and secure.  

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