The BBC’s coverage of the vehicular terror attack in Nice on July 14th 2016 highlighted the differences in the terminology used to describe and define that attack as opposed to the language used when reporting similar attacks against Israelis.
When a vehicular attack occurred in Berlin on the evening of December 19th, the BBC News website’s initial report on the incident – oddly titled “Berlin Breitscheidplatz: Lorry kills 12 at Christmas market” – was amended less than two hours after its initial publication to include a sub-heading posing the question “Terror attack?”
“We are investigating whether it was a terror attack but do not yet know what was behind it,” a police spokesman told AFP news agency.”
A later version of the report used the sub-heading “Was it a terror attack?” and informed readers that:
“German politicians have been unwilling to call the deadly crash a terrorist attack at this stage, while many of the details remain unverified or unclear.”
All but the first two versions of the report created linkage with an attack previously defined by the BBC as terrorism, telling readers that the incident:
“…evoked memories of the lorry attack on Bastille Day crowds in the French city of Nice on 14 July, when 86 people were killed. That attack was claimed by so-called Islamic State (IS).”
Later versions added:
“Both IS and al-Qaida have urged their followers to use trucks as a means to attack crowds.”
Early on the morning following the attack, the BBC News website published a second article which soon had its headline updated to read “Berlin attack: Police say lorry crash ‘probably terror attack’“.
“German police are investigating a “probable terrorist attack” after a man ploughed a lorry into a Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48. […]
Politicians had avoided branding the bloodshed a terror attack in the hours immediately following, but Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD television, “there are many things pointing to one”.”
Readers were provided with a link billed “A year of terror in Germany”.
The updated article to which that link leads was originally published in July 2016 and now opens:
“After suffering a series of attacks in the summer, Germany has been in fear of further terrorist violence.
Those fears were realised on Monday, when a lorry ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48.”
The same link was promoted as a stand alone item on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page and in an article titled “Berlin lorry attack: What we know” which informed readers:
“A lorry smashed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48, with many of them in a critical condition.
German police are treating it as a terror attack. It has already been compared with the July lorry attack in Nice, southern France, which killed 86 people. […]
Germany was shocked by four terror attacks in the summer, two of which – by asylum seekers – were claimed by IS.”
Also on December 20th, BBC television viewers were told by reporter Jenny Hill that:
“There is of course a sense of utter horror here this morning and that is compounded by the fact that the police here are now describing this as a suspected terror attack. So not only do they believe that that lorry was deliberately driven into the crowd here, they believe that this was a terror inspired attack too.”
In conclusion, BBC audiences were alerted to the probability that the incident at the Berlin Christmas market was a terror attack from the early stages of the BBC’s coverage, with use of the terms terror and terrorist made by the BBC itself, as well as in quotes from officials.
With the corporation having consistently refrained from describing vehicular attacks (and all other types of attacks) against Israelis as terrorism, the double standards so often evident in its reporting of terrorism in different locations are once again on display to BBC audiences – who of course have never seen a BBC article billed ‘A year of terror in Israel’.
Reviewing BBC reporting of vehicular attacks in France and Israel
More mapping of BBC inconsistency in terrorism reporting
BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe