The BBC has come under fire from Members of Parliament for refusing to describe Islamic State fighters as terrorists, instead encouraging its news reporters to use the less judgmental term ‘militants’.
MPs from both the Labour and Conservative parties have criticised the BBC’s editorial policy, reports The Express, calling instead for plain English to be used when reporting the terrorist activities of Islamic State fighters.
“Militants has the ring of placard waving strikers,” said Conservative MP Andrew Brigden, “the BBC can’t use the T word because they don’t want to be judgmental, but these are people who are willing to travel half way around the world to commit murder in cold blood.”
Labour MP John Mann agreed: “They should be called terrorists. That’s what they are. There is no ambiguity. There is no doubt. They’re terrorists.”
The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines are explicit and include the following statements:
Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.
The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. 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”. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; 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.
Further guidance is available for BBC staff in additional Guidance:
There is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or terrorist act. The use of the word will frequently involve a value judgement.
As such, we should not change the word “terrorist” when quoting someone else, but we should avoid using it ourselves.
BBC staff members are not unanimously supportive of the policy. A source claims many of their journalists agree with the MPs, a view exacerbated by frustration at not being able to describe the recent Paris attackers as terrorists, saying:
“It’s inappropriate. Of course we should be allowed to call them terrorists. We just appear out of step with the public.”
The BBC said: “We’re sure the British public are in no doubt from our coverage that this is as murderous organisation. The BBC is committed to democracy and our history shows it. Our aim is to report accurately and we use the appropriate terms to do so.”
A further line from the BBC’s Guidance suggests there may be another motive for their reluctance to call a terrorist a terrorist.
In a digital age, it is no longer possible to assume an easy split between domestic and overseas audiences.
It appears that although the BBC continues to be funded by a compulsory licence fee levied on British households, the news output of the corporation is generated with an eye on its global audience.