The February 16th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was in part devoted to coverage of the previous weekend’s two terror attacks in Copenhagen. The relevant segment can be found from 00:30:00 here.
From 32:36 presenter Rebecca Kesby interviewed Thomas Hegghammer – director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment – and after Hegghammer had noted (from 35:57) that “it’s too early to say whether this was a solo terrorist attack or a conspiracy” in light of the fact that two additional suspects had been arrested in Denmark, Kesby said:
“I mean this is something that you look at closely and what motivates people to carry this kind of thing out. I mean, people are referring to this as a terrorist attack or that…you know…that…including people from the…ehm….Danish government. Ehm…but from what you’ve seen – I mean – is that…would you say that was an accurate description of what’s happened? It could…is there any chance that this could be a lone wolf-style attack: just one person with a grievance?”
Fortunately, Mr Hegghammer clarified to Kesby that “a solo attacker can still perpetrate a terrorist act” but nevertheless, the fact that Kesby even raised the possibility of redefining two politically motivated murders at locations obviously selected in advance is revealing.
As we have known for a long time, the BBC chooses to direct its own staff to avoid the use of the word terrorism and its derivatives in content they produce on the grounds that it considers the word to be too “loaded” and “a value judgement” – although as we have documented here, that policy is not applied uniformly.
But Rebecca Kesby’s attempt to suggest to BBC World Service listeners that there is room to question the Danish authorities’ description of the attacks in Copenhagen clearly goes way beyond the BBC’s editorial guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism“. Not only is her proposed redefinition obviously not based on informed understanding of either the subject of terrorism or of the events themselves, but it indicates a “value judgement” with “significant political overtones” of its own.
Perhaps if BBC journalists were required to use accurate language when reporting on terrorism, they would also be better able to understand the issue.