Why we don't ban 'terrorist'

Alex Thomson makes a good point in his Medialand column (9 September)n about the use of the word “terrorist”.

Back
in 1988, the editor of BBC World Service News wrote: “Accepting that
there are some actions which mostpeople would recognise as terrorist –
the hand grenade thrown into a crèche, the airport queue machine-gunned
– we should still avoid the word. In the first place, our audience is
as perceptive as we are, and can make up their own minds without being
provided with labels. In the second place, there are actions which are
not quite so clearly terrorist, and we should not be forced into the
position of having to make value judgements on each event.

“We
are not ‘soft’ on terrorism, either as individuals or as a department;
nor do we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of inhuman atrocities
which all too often we have to report. We too would often like to
relieve our feeling of revulsion by using the broadcastable equivalents
of ‘murdering bastards’. We don’t, because we feel that something far
more important than our feelings, or the feelings of some of our
listeners, is at stake.”

May I emphasise the BBC does not ban the
use of the word but we do say: “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
convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing
what happened. 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.”

That is something that should mark our reporting from every part of the world.

Stephen Whittle controller, BBC Editorial Policy

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