Use of Language | 11.4.5 We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. 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. When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy. The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding... 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." [BBC Editorial Guideline: Language when Reporting Terrorism]
When a British serviceman was hacked to death in front of cameras and a horrified crowd in the London neighbourhood of Woolwich in May 2013, most people understood what it meant. The alleged killers explained themselves fairly clearly: "You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you... Allah Akbar", and so on. In the heat, passion and fury of the initial reporting, the BBC report was headlined "Man dead in suspected Woolwich terror attack". You can see that headline here in a screenshot of a Google search we carried out a few minutes ago:
From the BBC website, June 2007
Against all evidence and common sense, Hasan stands accused of “workplace violence”. That’s right, workplace violence — not terrorism or “combat related” murder. It’s but one of the parade of embarrassments surrounding the handling of this case. The workplace designation by the Defense Department and the Army means the military victims have been denied Purple Hearts and survivors have lower priority access to medical care and a lower level of financial benefits than available for combat-related injuries. But Hasan, an Army Medical Corps officer, has been able to collect more than $300,000 in pay since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack.Someone might argue that the shootings can’t be classified as terrorism since the targets were soldiers undergoing final medical checks before deployment to the war zone. But that ignores the two civilians shot, one a physician assistant killed and the other a police officer wounded. And the soldiers were unarmed and far from any war zone. Clearly, terrorism is a reasonable description of Hasan’s crime.Hasan asserted the preposterous defense that he killed the Americans to protect the lives of the Taliban. I suppose a designation of the shootings as “combat related” could conceivably open the way for a defense that Hasan was fighting in a war and thus he should not be criminally charged with murder. Even if you accept that — and I think it’s a stretch given, again, that the military personnel he attacked were unarmed — he’s certainly guilty of being a traitor. [Chicago Sun-Times]
While I do not dispute what you say about the seriousness of the crimes committed by those due to be released, I do not agree with you that the phrase ‘political prisoners’ is inaccurate. Honest Reporting, quoting The Independent's Deputy Managing Editor] You will be aware that there is no set definition of ‘political prisoner’ and that, for instance, the definition used by Amnesty International includes “any prisoner whose case has a significant political element: whether the motivation of the prisoner’s acts, the act in themselves, or the motivation of the authorities”. We set out clearly in the article why the prisoner issue is so controversial and we listed the crimes committed by some of those who are to be set free. I do not believe our coverage of this issue has been misleading, either in its words or the accompanying pictures. [
If Independent editors refuse to refer to any Palestinian as a terrorist, is it really a surprise that they will try to defend their reference to a murderer as a political prisoner? The Independent continues to give the Palestinians a free pass for their violent behavior. Even if Palestinians kill, it’s their motivation that defines them, not their actions. So it seems the Independent might have its own political motivations.
Woolwich attack: Terror suspect Michael Adebolajo was arrested in Kenya on suspicion of being at centre of al-Qa'ida-inspired plot | IoS exclusive: Terror suspect was among group arrested in Kenya en route to Somalia two years ago. Family say torture there ‘pushed him over the edge’ [Headline in The Independent, May 26, 2013]
Back in 2007, when writing about the terror attacks in London and Glasgow ["30-Jun-07: Britain at war"], we offered this unrequested advice:
To the BBC - bravo for using the right word in tonight's headlines: "UK terror threat now critical". Your absurd and self-serving guidelines have for years provided you with cover for distorted and dishonest coverage of what we Israelis endure at the hands of the haters. Those guidelines 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." This is rubbish - something with which you plainly agree, at least when it comes to attacks on your homes. And rightly so. Please do stick with the use of the word "terrror" and "terrorists" when the facts support it and you will be doing your compatriots and tax-paying owners a large favour. This is not about militants in London or activists in Glasgow. War has been declared on you by the agents of terror. They know it and you know it. Terror is the right word - over there in the UK, over here in Israel, and everywhere else that the terrorists and their protagonists (a very, very large class) are to be found.
"The war against the terrorists is a real war, as real as the Battle of Britain was, as real as the Hezbollah War is, as real as the Arafat War (some call it the Second Intifada) is. In war, you do what you need to do to win. When it is not happening to you, you can engage in silly rhetoric and superficial phraseology. When it is happening to you, your children, your home, your society, you do what you need to do. The terrorists understand that better than the rest of us."