The director of the taxpayer-funded BBC Arabic service has issued a diktat to his staff saying the two men who murdered the staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo should not be referred to as ‘terrorists’, claiming the term had become too “value-laden”.
Remarking that the definition of the word terrorist was not always clear, and that even the United Nations had so far failed to codify an exact meaning, head of BBC Arabic Tarik Kafala said “We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist.
“What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is”.
Speaking to The Independent the Libyan-born journalist said: “Terrorism is such a loaded word. The UN has been struggling for more than a decade to define the word and they can’t. It is very difficult to. We know what political violence is, we know what murder, bombings and shootings are and we describe them. That’s much more revealing, we believe, than using a word like terrorist which people will see as value-laden”.
While Kafala claims the BBC strives to add more nuance to reporting by using words like “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper” or “militant” instead, the decision may give rise to the suggestion that dropping the word is a form of self-censorship, intended to prevent the giving of offence.
Kafala said: “The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorist group’ can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. It may be better to talk about an apparent act of terror or terrorism than label individuals or a group”.
Until last year the World Service, of which the Arabic Service is part, was funded by the Foreign Office through taxpayer money and wielded as a tool of influence abroad. In 2014 its funding was switched to the licence fee, which is paid by all British households that operate television sets.