Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

We have frequently posited on these pages that the BBC’s long-standing policy of avoiding the use of the word ‘terror’ and its derivatives on the grounds that such use would constitute a “value judgement” is in fact a value judgement in itself. 

The recent terror attack in Nairobi seems to have brought the subject of that self-inflicted abstinence into the arena of public debate. The Daily Telegraph reported that “[t]he BBC is under mounting pressure to end an effective ban on the use of the word “terrorist””.

“The corporation has drawn criticism during its coverage of the Kenyan massacre for describing the perpetrators as “militants”.

Neil Sleat, the newsreader on Radio 4’s Today programme, did not use the word “terrorist” once in any of his four news bulletins on Tuesday, instead referring to the attackers as “Islamist militants” while coverage of the incident on the BBC’s website describes the group as “suspected al-Shabab militants”. […]

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East, said the BBC was “out of touch” on the issue.

“Most members of the British public would see the planned and systematic murder of dozens of innocent people in Kenya as terrorism,” he said.”

Reactions to a Tweet sent from the BBC Breaking News account on September 24th corroborate Mr Wilson’s gauging of public opinion. 

kenya tweet

In the Telegraph’s blogs section, Brendan O’Neill writes:

“In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC’s yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word– terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend.”

Members of the public can make their opinions on this subject (and others) known to the BBC Trust by taking advantage of the ongoing consultation on the subject of BBC news and current affairs content. 

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