New BBC style guide on terrorism

As previously mentionedthe BBC has a new style guide.  In the section entitled “Israel and the Palestinians”, the entry pertaining to terrorism has not undergone any significant change. 

The old entry in the “Key Terms” guide under the heading “Terrorists” read:

“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.””

Our responsibility is to remain impartial and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

The new entry under the same title reads:

“BBC Editorial Guidelines state:

“We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We try to avoid the use of the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution. When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.

“The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. 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’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’, and ‘militant’. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.

“For similar reasons, it is also usually inappropriate to use, without attribution, terms such as ‘liberate’, ‘court martial’ or ‘execute’ in the absence of a clear judicial process.” ” [emphasis added]

In another part of the new style guide – the A to Z section – the bolded sentence above is repeated in the section titled “Terrorist”, with (inter alia) the following addition:

“It is also very important that we strive for consistency across the international and UK facing sites. If a BBC World story uses very measured language but a UK version does not, a user will rightly question the different approaches.”

As we have noted here on several occasions, the BBC habitually employs double standards on this subject, accurately and appropriately using the term ‘terror’ and its derivatives when reporting on domestic terrorism, but scrupulously avoiding the use of the same terms in connection with widely-designated terror organisations in the Middle East. 

The same entry goes on to state:

“The words ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ may be used in a non-specific context, or in direct quotes – but it is not for us to label a particular group or specific act as terrorist.”

That sudden attack of ‘humility’ appears especially incongruous when coming from an organization which – as we know – pompously awards itself the status of being qualified to pass judgement on the subject of another country’s capital city. 

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