On August 11th the BBC News website published an article about a thwarted terror attack in Canada under the headline “Canada police ‘kill suspect in anti-terror operation’“. Readers of that article were left in no doubt as to what the story was about. [all emphasis added]
“Police have shot dead a suspect in an anti-terror operation in the Canadian province of Ontario.” […]
“An earlier The RCMP statement said [sic] it had received “credible information of a potential terrorist threat”.” […]
“Mr Tailleur, who represented Driver in 2015 and early 2016, said his client had never indicated he would engage in terrorist activities.” […]
“The electronic tag was removed in February when he agreed to the terms of a court order limiting his activities because there were reasonable grounds to believe he might aid a terror group or terrorist activity.”
The article also included an insert titled “How do countries handle terror suspects?”.
Days earlier the BBC News website produced several reports about the terror attack on August 8th at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan in which scores of people were murdered.
Pakistan hospital bomb attack kills dozens in Quetta August 8th 2016
Quetta hospital bombing: Pakistan Taliban claim attack August 8th 2016
Quetta hospital bombing: Pakistan lawyers strike in protest August 9th 2016
In all of those reports, readers found the word ‘terrorists’ used just once – in the fourth article above – in the form of a direct quote at the end of the report.
“Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Quetta after the attack, and said “all state security institutions must respond with full might to decimate these terrorists”.”
In other words, while the BBC had no problem clarifying to its audiences that an attack which was fortunately prevented in Canada was terrorism, it refrained from describing an actual attack against civilians in Pakistan in the same terms.
The BBC’s editorial guidelines state: [emphasis added]
“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism. We recognise the existence and the reality of terrorism – at this point in the twenty first century we could hardly do otherwise. Moreover, we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.
We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services. We have learnt from the experience of covering such events in Northern Ireland as much as in Israel, Spain, Russia, Southern Africa or the many other places where violence divides communities, and where we seek to be seen as objective by all sides, that labels applied to groups can sometimes hinder rather than help.”
As Israelis already know only too well and as this example once again demonstrates, the only consistent thing about the BBC’s use of language when reporting terrorism is its inconsistency.