The BBC and definition of terrorism

Earlier this year we noted statements made by the BBC News Editorial Director Kamal Ahmed during a BBC Radio 4 interview about public criticism of the corporation’s reporting of the Christchurch terror attack. During that interview Ahmed claimed that:

“There is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist.”

“…terrorism and a terror attack carry a huge amount of different opinions about when we should use that term…”

“There is no agreed definition of what a terrorist is. It is disputed.”

The introduction to Section 11 of the BBC’s new editorial guidelines – “War, Terror and Emergencies” – references the OFCOM Broadcasting Code:

“The BBC has a special responsibility to its UK and international audiences when reporting conflict including wars, acts of terror, sieges and other emergencies. People across the world access our services for trustworthy news and information. They expect us to provide context and analysis and to offer a wide range of views and opinions. We need to be scrupulous in applying due accuracy and impartiality [1] […]

[1] The sections of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code that relate to this are 3: Crime, Disorder, Hatred and Abuse and 8: Privacy.”

Section 3 of the OFCOM Broadcasting Code – “Crime, disorder, hatred and abuse” – includes the following:

“Meaning of “terrorism”: see the definition in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which is also summarised in Ofcom’s guidance to this section of the Code.”

Citing section 1 of the UK government’s Terrorism Act 2000 that guidance states:

““Terrorism” is the use or threat of action which:

    • involves serious violence against a person;
    • involves serious damage to property;
    • endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action;
    • creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public; or
    • is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system,

where the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.”

While that definition of terrorism is not included in the OFCOM Broadcasting Code in relation to the issue of “use of language”, obviously the claim from the Editorial Director that the BBC only uses the term terrorist with attribution because “[t]here is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist” does not hold water.

As we see the UK government has defined terrorism and OFCOM has adopted that definition. The question therefore arising is why the BBC – to which the OFCOM Broadcasting Code applies in relation to television, radio and on-demand content – does not also use that same definition and thus bring an end to the long evident double standards in the language it uses when reporting terrorism.  

Related Articles:

BBC senior editor defends double standards on terrorism

Are BBC guidelines on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ about to get worse?

Advertisements

BBC senior editor defends double standards on terrorism

Those who have been following the BBC’s coverage of the recent attack at a synagogue near San Diego may have noticed that the sole use of the word terrorist appears in a quote from the wounded Rabbi in one of the BBC’s reports. A programme aired last month casts some light on related editorial policy. 

The March 22nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Feedback’ included an item (from 1:03 here) concerning criticism of the BBC’s coverage of the terror attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the previous week. Presenter Roger Bolton spoke with the BBC News editorial director Kamal Ahmed and from 5:20 the conversation turned to “the use of the word terrorism”. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Bolton: “Should the BBC have used the term ‘terrorist attack’ instead of ‘shooting’?”

Ahmed: “On the issue of terror and terrorism our guidance is clear. There is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist. If we use the word we want to attribute it and we attributed it correctly to the New Zealand prime minister…”

Bolton: “What our listeners come back and say, and quite forcibly, if this had been conducted by Islamists you would have called it terrorism. Because it was conducted by someone who is not, you’re more reluctant to apply the term terrorism.”

Ahmed: “We went through a long list of other headlines and how we had covered other atrocities like the London Bridge attack, like the Westminster attack, like the Manchester concert attack. Because terrorism and a terror attack carry a huge amount of different opinions about when we should use that term, we need to explain what happened first, as I say…”

Bolton: “You say that straightforwardly but for some reason – the audience largely I think does not understand this – you are reluctant to use the word terror. Clearly one of their aims is not just to kill people but to gain publicity and to create a sense of terror.”

Ahmed: “There is no agreed definition of what a terrorist is. It is disputed.”

Bolton: “So does that mean we will never use it independently?”

Ahmed: “No, there is no ban on any use of words in the BBC…”

Bolton: “So would you use the expression without attributing it to somebody?”

Ahmed: “We have very clear guidelines that the use of the word is surrounded by all sorts of complications and actually confuses the issue.”

Bolton: “So it’s something you are reluctant to use, that term. Does that mean your instruction to those who write scripts and so on is avoid using the word terrorism?”

Ahmed: “Not at all. Not at all.”

Bolton: “I still don’t understand when you think it would be suitable to use it other than when you’re attributing it to someone else.”

Ahmed: “I think, Roger, we’re trying to get down to a kind of precise definition which we’re not going to get to. We want to be consistent. One of your listeners said that it was because we were worried about inflaming the masses. That is not the issue. These are live discussions. These are delicate, complicated areas which we discuss with colleagues throughout. But we’re very clear: the most important point is that audiences understand what has happened.”

Roger Bolton is of course understandably confused by the BBC’s approach to the issue because despite Ahmed’s claim that the BBC wants “to be consistent”, it is anything but.

Just over a month before the New Zealand attacks the BBC News website had once again described the 2015 attacks against mainly British tourists in Tunisia as terror.

The 2017 Westminster Bridge incident mentioned by Ahmed was described from the outset by the BBC as terrorism and the term has been used in reports on the Manchester and London Bridge attacks.  

Attacks in Barcelona, Stockholm, NiceBerlinBrussels and Paris have been reported using the term terrorism while attacks in Egypt – and of course Israel – have not.

Notably among the BBC reports tagged ‘Christchurch mosque shootings’ is an article headlined “Far-right terror poses ‘biggest threat’ to north of England”.

Kamal Ahmed is of course not the first senior BBC journalist to defend the corporation’s double standards on language when reporting terrorism but his claim that “there is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist” is weakened by the fact that when it has wanted to, the BBC has found just such a definition.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Business airbrushes abuse of foreign workers in Qatar

On March 27th the business section of the BBC News website published an interview with Qatar’s finance minister by the BBC’s economics editor, Kamal Ahmed, under the title “Qatar announces £5bn UK investment“.

“One of the largest investors in the UK has committed £5bn of new money to invest in transport, property and digital technology. […]

Qatar has already invested £40bn in the UK – it owns Harrods and a 95% stake in the Shard in London.

It also has a stake in Canary Wharf in the capital’s Docklands, as well as an interest in the Milford Haven liquefied natural gas terminal in South Wales.

It also bought the Olympic Village following the London 2012 Olympics.

“Currently the UK is our first investment destination and it is the largest investment destination for Qatari investors, both public and private,” Ali Shareef al Emadi, the country’s finance minister, told the BBC. […]

“We’re announcing an additional £5bn of investment in the next three to five years.

“Mainly this investment will focus on infrastructure sectors, technology, energy and real estate.””

The closing paragraphs of the 650-word article read as follows:

“Qatar has faced controversy over a fundraising for Barclays Bank at the time of the financial crisis and – more recently – allegations that poor labour conditions have marred the preparations for the 2022 World Cup which is being held in the country.

Mr Al Emadi said that Qatar had supported job creation in the UK.

“If you look at what we have done here, it has always been a win-win situation, whatever investment we do in the UK,” he said.

“When you talk about labour in Qatar, I think a lot of these things have been taken out of proportion and [are] inaccurate news.””

The phrase “controversy over a fundraising” is a very euphemistic portrayal of a story that involves an ongoing criminal investigation as well as a probe by the UK financial regulator.

Likewise, the phrase “poor labour conditions” is a highly evasive way of describing a story that has been covered extensively by many media outlets (including the BBC itself), NGOs and human rights groups alike. The Qatari minister’s claim that the issue of abuses of foreign workers in Qatar has been “taken out of proportion” and his allegation of “inaccurate news” are not questioned or challenged by Kamal Ahmed, thus allowing the interviewee the last (spun) word.

Moreover, this article does not include any additional information or relevant links relating to those two stories. The tag ‘Qatar’ appended to the article was apparently set up on the same day that this report was published and includes (at the time of writing) the grand total of three reports including this one, none of which relate to the two issues raised by Kamal Ahmed.

The BBC’s public purpose remit obliges it to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” and only recently the corporation claimed to ask “the questions others won’t”. The BBC’s funding public would therefore expect to be provided with accurate and impartial information concerning those two stories (and other controversial issues such as support for terror groups) in an article relating to a foreign state investor in UK infrastructure.

Related Articles:

BBC schmoozes Qatar

BBC playing wingman for Qatar’s damage control in the UK?

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part one

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two