Fury as the BBC refuses to call ISIS killers terrorists: MPs demand Corporation stop referring to them as militants because it sound like they’re ‘placard-waving strikers’
- The broadcaster has an effective on-air ban on the word terrorist
- The Corporation argues that its impartiality could be thrown into doubt
- It says the term risks ‘implying judgment where there is no clear consensus about the legitimacy of militant political groups’
- But MPs across the political divide have attacked the BBC’s policy
The BBC should stop referring to Islamic State killers as militants, and call them the terrorists they are, say MPs.
The broadcaster has an effective ban on the word terrorist, arguing that its impartiality could be thrown into doubt.
It says the term risks ‘implying judgment where there is no clear consensus about the legitimacy of militant political groups’.
The restriction means that millions of radio listeners and TV viewers routinely hear Islamic State maniacs described as militants on the airwaves.
But MPs across the political divide have attacked the policy, saying it was time to use plain English when describing cold-blooded killers.
Although the BBC does not ban the word ‘terrorist’ outright, the corporation is explicit that journalists should modify their language. Where they slip up, the BBC’s Editorial Policy Unit sends journalists an email reminding them of its standards.
As a result, BBC presenters and writers routinely use the words ‘militant’ or ‘jihadists’ as substitutes, unless they are quoting someone directly.
Alternatively, they avoid using adjectives altogether and simply refer to Islamic State as a ‘group’.
In a 1,700-word article published on the BBC’s website earlier this week, and entitled What is Islamic state? the words ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’ do not appear once.
The closest the article gets are two references to America’s National Counterterrorism Center.
But Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘“Militants” has the ring of placard waving strikers. 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 said: ‘They should be called terrorists. That’s what they are.
‘There is no ambiguity. There is no doubt. They’re terrorists.’
Conservative Philip Davies added: ‘God help us all if the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, can’t describe things as they are. Are they not wanting to offend the IS terrorists? It is absolutely extraordinary.’
Their views are shared by BBC journalists who have privately expressed frustration that they were not able to describe the perpetrators of the recent Paris attacks accurately.
An insider said: ‘It’s inappropriate. Of course we should be allowed to call them terrorists. We just appear out of step with the public.’
However, the BBC argues that the word terrorist is too loaded with ‘value judgements’ – something it says it is desperate to avoid.
It tells staff: ‘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…We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “insurgent”, and “militant”.’
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