I noted the introduction of the new BBC editorial guidelines previously.. Now, in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on London, one guideline in particular has caused controversy. The Guardian Newsblog noted some of the issues raised about the BBC re-editing reports, while Harry’s Place had an excellent piece on the accusations of bias. In yesterday’s Observer, Nick Cohen argues persuasively, also referencing Norman Geras on the topic, that the BBC guidelines will result in “castrated language which has been emptied of precise meaning.”
The BBC guideline on Terror in full –
We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution. We should let other people characterise while we report the facts as we know them.
We should not adopt other people’s language as our own. It is also usually inappropriate to use words like “liberate”, “court martial” or “execute” in the absence of a clear judicial process. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “insurgent, and “militant”. Our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.
The head of BBC Television News, Roger Mosey, writing in the Guardian last week, defended the corporation against the accusations, and on the use of the word terrorist wrote this –
Then there has been a controversy about our use of language – particularly the question of whether the BBC banned the word “terrorist”. There is no ban. It’s true the word is contentious in some contexts on our international services, hence the recommendation that it be employed with care. But we have used and will continue to use the words terror, terrorism and terrorist – as we did in all our flagship bulletins from Thursday.
Except that the guidelines state – “We should try to avoid the term, without attribution.”.. i.e. they will use it.. if they can quote someone else saying it.