The March 22nd terror attacks at the airport and on the metro in Brussels in which over thirty people were murdered and hundreds wounded were of course covered in depth on the BBC News website and in particular on its Europe page. The website’s main article on that day went through numerous understandable changes as events unfolded and information came to light.
Originally titled “Brussels Zaventem airport rocked by two explosions”, the article now appears under the headline “Brussels attacks: Zaventem and Maelbeek bombs kill many” but the journey between those two headlines highlights some interesting editorial decisions.
The original headline was later changed to read “Brussels Zaventem airport blasts cause casualties” and still later to “Brussels Zaventem airport and metro explosions ‘kill at least 13′” and then “Brussels explosions: Airport and metro hit with ‘at least 13 killed'”.
Around four hours after the first attacks took place the headline was amended to read “Brussels explosions: Many dead in airport and metro terror attacks” and the article’s opening paragraph also used the term “terrorist attacks”.
“Many people have been killed or seriously injured in terrorist attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station, Belgium’s PM says.”
The next two versions of the report carried the same headline and opening paragraph and at around the same time the BBC News website’s Europe page also used the word terror in its main headline.
Just under two hours later, that headline was again amended to read “Brussels attacks: At least 26 dead at Zaventem and Maelbeek” but the opening paragraph still informed readers that terror attacks had taken place.
“At least 26 people have been killed or seriously injured in terrorist attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station.”
Subsequently the headline was again updated to “Brussels attacks: At least 31 dead at Zaventem and Maelbeek” and the word ‘terrorist’ was removed from the opening paragraph.
“At least 31 people have been killed and many seriously injured in attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station.”
None of the five subsequent versions of the article used the word terror in either the headline or the opening paragraph.
So as we see, despite having at some point been accurately able to identify and name the horrific events in Brussels as terror attacks, BBC editors later went out of their way to expunge that description from the website’s main report. As we shall see in part two of this post, that article was not the only one affected by that editorial policy.