BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

BBC coverage of the terror attack in Duma last summer and the subsequent investigation has thrown a spotlight on the differing terminology employed to describe the suspects in that case and other terrorists.

There are two aspects to that differing terminology, one of which is the use of the word ‘terrorists’ – a term which is never used by the BBC to describe Palestinian attackers. As we noted here last month:

“The BBC’s description of detainees in cases such as the murders of three sleeping members of the Dawabshe family in the arson attack in Duma on July 31st 2015 as “suspected terrorists” is of course accurate. Despite the fact that this article confines itself to noting “international condemnation” of the Duma attack and even amplifies baseless accusations concerning the investigation into the attack from a family member, such wording appropriately reflects the Israeli government’s classification of the attack from the very beginning.

However, the people who murdered five members of the Fogel family as they too slept in 2011 and the people who murdered the parents of the Henkin family in October 2015 and the people who murdered early morning worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue in 2014 and the people who murdered Malachi Rosenfeld in June 2015 (in an attack now mentioned in this report but not reported in English by the BBC at the time) are also terrorists.

The trouble is that the BBC does not use the term terrorists to describe them or the perpetrators of countless other attacks against Israelis to its audiences. It is high time that it explained to its funding public why that is the case.”

The second difference is the specification of the suspects’ religion – as noted here last August in relation to a radio report which referred to “Jewish terror attacks”.

“Notable too is Dymond’s use of the word ‘Jewish’ before the phrase ‘terror attacks’. We do not of course see the comparable term ‘Muslim terror attacks’ used in BBC coverage: the prevailing term is ‘Islamist’ and recognized terror organisations such as Hamas are euphemistically described as “Palestinian militant Islamist groups”.”

A member of the public who questioned the BBC’s unusual reference to the religion of the suspects in one of its reports on the investigation into the Duma attack received a reply from BBC Complaints which includes the following:Duma attack indictments

“There were two references to the religion of suspects in this article. The first was in a line reporting how:

Investigations have focused on young Jewish extremists, based largely in the occupied West Bank.

During the investigation into the Duma attack, Israeli leaders publicly and specifically referred to the suspected culprits as “Jewish”.

On 15 October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters: “Sometimes it is hard, as in this single case, to find the Jewish terrorists, but we will”.

Likewise Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio on 15 December that the Duma firebombing was “clearly a Jewish attack.”

A second line in the story referred to how:

It also prompted the Israeli government to approve the use of administrative detention – a procedure under which a military court can order suspects to be detained indefinitely without charge or trial – for Jewish terror suspects.

This was in reference to the fact that the Israeli Defence Minister issued a statement after the security cabinet (of which he is a part) approved the use of administrative detention against Jewish suspects, in which he said:

“The cabinet made important decisions yesterday, including my recommendation to use administrative detention against Jewish terrorists and fanatics.”

I hope you’ll find this response useful in explaining our references to “Jewish” and thank you once again for contacting us with your views.”

So what the BBC is actually saying here is that it makes use of the term “Jewish terrorists” – including not in direct quotes and in apparent contradiction to BBC editorial guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ – because Israeli officials use such wording.

However, the rub lies in the fact that Palestinian officials will never be found using comparable terminology to describe their own citizens who carry out attacks against Israelis and so the BBC will not apply similar practice when reporting those stories.

The obvious outcome of that is a double standard according to which the accuracy of the terminology used by the BBC is dependent upon the honesty of the government or authority concerned – and that is clearly a big problem for a media organisation supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting.

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