Not all ‘occupied territories’ are equal for the BBC

As readers are no doubt well aware the BBC rarely, if ever, passes up on an opportunity to remind its audiences that certain geographical areas appearing in its coverage are “occupied territories” or “occupied Palestinian land” and that “settlements are illegal under international law”. The BBC’s ‘style guide’ on “Israel and the Palestinians” has instructions for its journalists on the topic – including:Style Guide

“Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. A law in 1980 formalised an administrative measure tantamount to the annexation of land taken as a result of the 1967 War. The claim to East Jerusalem is not recognised internationally. Instead, under international law, East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied territory. […]

The BBC should say East Jerusalem is ‘occupied’ if it is relevant to the context of the story. For example: “Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967. It annexed the area in 1980 and sees it as its exclusive domain. Under international law the area is considered to be occupied territory.”” 


“The phrase ‘Occupied Territories’ refers to East Jerusalem, the West Bank and strictly speaking the Golan Heights. However, it is common usage for this phrase to refer to the West Bank as a whole and not the Golan Heights (unless it is in a story specifically on the 1967 War or Syrian/Israeli relations).    

This is our preferred description. It is advisable to avoid trying to find another formula, although the phrase ‘occupied West Bank’ can also be used. It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.”  

Apparently though, no comparable instructions are available to BBC journalists writing about Cyprus – at least if an article which appeared on the BBC News website on April 26th under the title “Mustafa Akinci wins northern Cyprus presidential election” is anything to go by.

The word ‘occupied’ did not appear in that report at all: readers are merely told that Turkey ‘controls’ the northern part of Cyprus.

“Voters in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus have elected Mustafa Akinci as their new president.”

Audiences are also informed that:

“The island was divided in 1974 by a Turkish invasion staged in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup staged to secure a union with Greece. In 1983 the Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

No mention is made of the fact (noted in the BBC’s Cyprus profile) that the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is Turkey and of course there is no reference in the report(or the profile) to “illegal settlements” or “international law” despite the fact that it was Turkish state policy to facilitate and encourage the immigration of Turkish nationals to the island during the latter half of the 1970s.

Can it really be that the BBC has only issued specific guidelines on the ‘correct’ terminology to be used when reporting on one of the world’s many conflicts?  

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