BBC rejects call to change terminology

Refuses to use the word "terrorist" to describe attacks on Israeli civilians.

June 29, 2006 02:32
2 minute read.
BBC rejects call to change terminology

terror attack 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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The BBC has rejected a call made by an independent panel studying charges of bias in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to change its editorial policies on the use of the word "terrorist" and appoint a senior editor to oversee its Middle East coverage. Using the word "terrorist" to describe attacks on civilians, BBC management argued in a paper released June 19, would make the "very value judgments" it had been asked to eschew. An independent panel in May found the BBC's reporting from Israel did "not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture." However, the 38-page report commissioned by the BBC's governors to "assess whether the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict meets the required standards of impartiality" found that apart from "individual lapses" there "was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias" in its reporting. The panel found that BBC reporting displayed "gaps in coverage, analysis, context and perspective" and failed to "maintain consistently the BBC's own established editorial standards, including on language." They recommended a senior manager be appointed to oversee BBC coverage of the Middle East, that its reporting provide a "full and fair" account of the "complexities" of the conflict, that its complaints procedure be revised, and that it reform its use of language. The report chided the BBC over its reluctance to use the word "terrorist" or "terrorism" and recommended it describe violent attacks upon civilians that had the intent of causing terror for political or ideological reasons "whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies" as "terrorism." The BBC's Board of Governors "welcomed the finding of no deliberate or systematic bias" noting, "most viewers and listeners" in the UK "regard the BBC as unbiased." However, they said they had "not been persuaded to change the Editorial Guidelines" on the use of the word "terrorist." Using the word "terrorist" in the manner defined by the panel, BBC management argued, "would exclude attacks on soldiers" and would make "the very value judgments" the Editorial Guidelines "ask us to avoid." The BBC management stated that they do permit the use of the word "terrorist," but cautioned its reporters "against its use without attribution." However, appointing a senior manager to provide "more secure editorial planning, grip and oversight" in its Middle East coverage would add an extra layer of management that "could undermine the independence and accountability of BBC editors." To improve its coverage the BBC stated it would appoint a correspondent to cover the West Bank and give its current Middle East editor a greater role "in helping to formulate the BBC's overall coverage strategy." Monthly editorial meetings will now be held to oversee thematic coverage of the region. The BBC conceded that more could be done to "explain the complexities of the conflict" and tackle its viewers' "high level of incomprehension." To help give perspective and context to the conflict the BBC news Web site will launch a podcast series entitled "Undercurrent Affairs" focusing on the region. Trevor Asserson, director of BBCWatch, however, noted the only way for the BBC to put "its house in order" was to "improve its systems; senior editors must be given the responsibility of systematically imposing impartiality and an independent complaints system must be set up that tells the BBC when it fails."

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