The BBC version of Michelle Obama’s address

As readers are probably aware, Michelle Obama took the opportunity of Mother’s Day in the US to deliver an address on the subject of an issue which has been dominating the news in the past few weeks; the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram.

Here is a transcript of Ms Obama’s address, which is introduced as follows in the official press release.

“In this week’s address, First Lady Michelle Obama honored all mothers on this upcoming Mother’s Day and offered her thoughts, prayers and support in the wake of the unconscionable terrorist kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.” [emphasis added]

Ms Obama’s speech included the following passages: [emphasis added]

“Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night. 

This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls. […]

The girls themselves also knew full well the dangers they might encounter. 

Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams. […]

As Malala said in her address to the United Nations, she said “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” “

But, as Arnold Roth points out, in the BBC News website’s May 10th written report on Michelle Obama’s address, all mention of the word ‘terrorist’ has been expunged and Boko Haram – which was not mentioned by name by Ms Obama herself – is described as an “Islamist militant group”. That same euphemistic description is used in the synopsis of an abridged video of Ms Obama’s address which also appears on the BBC News website.Michelle Obama video 

The BBC’s guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” states:

“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism. We recognise the existence and the reality of terrorism – at this point in the twenty first century we could hardly do otherwise. Moreover, we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.” [emphasis added]

Indeed, the BBC did not “change the word terrorist” when quoting Ms Obama: instead it just chose not to quote the parts of her address which used that word and to present audiences with its own paraphrasing of her words.

The BBC claims that the use of the word ‘terror’ represents a “value judgement”. As has been posited here before, the avoidance of that term is often no less a value judgement in itself and – in the case of teenage girls abducted and apparently scheduled for sale into slavery by a terrorist organization – a particularly miserable one.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

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