In part one of this post we documented the changes made to the BBC News website’s main report on the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22nd and the way in which the term ‘terror’ was removed from its later versions.
Another article which appears to have undergone a similar editing process is titled “In pictures: Brussels blasts“. The current version of that report opens:
“Scores of people have been killed and wounded in attacks at Brussels international airport and a city metro station during the morning rush hour.
There has been heightened security in the Belgian capital since it emerged that several of the men behind last November’s Paris attacks had come from Brussels.”
However, that second paragraph originally read:
“There has been heightened tension and security in the Belgian capital since it emerged that several of the men behind last November’s terror attacks in Paris had come from the city. Just days ago, a man suspected of involvement in the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was arrested in Brussels after four months on the run.” [emphasis added]
In other words, the BBC edited the word terror out of that reference to attacks it accurately described at the time (for example here, here and here) and subsequently (for example here and here) as terrorism.
On March 23rd the BBC News website published a report titled “Brussels attacks: Belgium mourns amid hunt for suspect” which was promoted on the BBC News (World) Twitter account.
However, minutes before that Tweet went out, the same article had been promoted in an earlier one which was apparently deleted.
The BBC of course knows full well that the premeditated and coordinated attacks in Brussels were acts of terrorism and that the people who executed them are terrorists. That fact is still reflected in some of its many reports on the events but the removal of the word terror from other reports indicates once again that the corporation has real difficulty distinguishing between the means and ends of violent attacks on civilians and that its inconsistent employment of the term terror hinges on political judgements.
The BBC’s editorial guidelines on War, Terror and Emergencies state:
“We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution. When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.”
As its reporting on the Brussels attacks shows, the BBC is not achieving consistency even within coverage of one story. Some of its journalists appropriately employed the term terror whilst other members of its staff were busy expunging that word from coverage. Until the corporation is capable of coming up with a uniform approach to reporting acts of terrorism wherever – and by whom – they are perpetrated, its reputation for objectivity and accuracy will obviously remain compromised.