BBC removes the word ‘terror’ from follow-up report about Kuwait attacks

Whilst discussing the BBC’s employment of geographically selective double standards in its reporting on terrorism we recently noted here that the corporation’s coverage of the terror attack on a mosque in Kuwait in June 2015 had rightly included the use of the word terror.

On November 20th a short follow-up report on that story was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Kuwait crackdown on ‘IS-supporting extremist cell’“.Kuwait report

The version of that article appearing on the BBC News website at the time of writing opens:

“Kuwait has arrested members of an alleged cell accused of supplying funds and weapons to the so-called Islamic State (IS), reports say.”

Later on, readers are told that:

“In June, 27 people died after an attack on one of Kuwait’s oldest Shia mosques.

It was the deadliest bombing in decades in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country. An affiliate group of IS calling itself Najd Province said it carried out the attack.”

However, those paragraphs underwent amendment about three hours after the article’s initial publication. The first paragraph originally read:

“Kuwait has arrested members of an alleged terror cell accused of supplying funds and weapons to the so-called Islamic State (IS), say reports.” [emphasis added]

The other paragraphs highlighted above originally read:

“In June, 27 people died after an attack on one of Kuwait’s oldest Shia mosques.

It was the worst terror attack in decades in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country. An affiliate group of IS calling itself Najd Province claimed responsibility the attack.” [emphasis added]

Oddly, the phrase “terror attack” remained in place in the caption to the photograph illustrating the report.

Readers will no doubt recall that it is not long since the BBC complaints department ‘explained’ the corporation’s use of the word terror in reporting on the June attack in Kuwait by telling BBC Watch that “We don’t believe the Har Nof murders [in Jerusalem, November 2014] are comparable to the recent attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait” and “We don’t believe it is unreasonable to say that the Har Nof attacks were very different to the events in Tunisia and Kuwait…”.

As the BBC ridiculously continues to tie itself in ever more embarrassing knots over the issue of the language used when reporting acts of terror, Kuwaitis may be interested to know that they too are apparently now subject to the BBC’s two-tier system of reporting which censors the use of the word terror and its derivatives in certain geographical locations.

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

h/t DL

As regular readers know, one topic frequently discussed on these pages is the double standard employed by the BBC when reporting terrorism in Israel and terrorism in other locations.The Media Show

The November 18th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Media Show’ was devoted in part to the subject of media coverage of last weekend’s terror attacks in Paris and one of the topics discussed by host Steve Hewlett and his guests was described as follows in the introduction:

“… should journalists and presenters use the words terrorist and terrorism, as many did without attribution?”

From around 16:30 here, that topic was discussed quite extensively, with contributions from former OFCOM official Stewart Purvis and the BBC’s Controller of Daily News Programmes Gavin Allen providing some interesting insight into the background to the corporation’s lack of consistency in the use of language when reporting terror attacks – despite its apparently recently altered guidelines on the topic stressing the importance of consistency in reporting.

Steve Hewlett: “…the BBC says ‘since there is no agreed consensus on what constitutes a terrorist or a terrorist act, the use of the word will frequently involve value judgements. As such we should not change the word terrorist when quoting someone else but we should avoid using it ourselves. We try to avoid using the term terrorist without attribution’. So, Stewart, where do you think people should be on this question?”

Stewart Purvis: “Well I think the origin of this problem arises from the difference between broadcasting just for the UK and broadcasting out [side] the UK. I think there are very few people who would say that for instance the bombs that the IRA planted in London – or what happened in Paris, to be blunt – was anything other than terrorism. It was a tactic to shock and terrorise people in a city. But what happens when you talk about what might happen in the middle of Israel or in the Palestinian territories? If a bomb goes off there or they’ve stabbed someone to death, what is the language to describe that? And I think that’s partly why the BBC has taken against this word terrorism because it actually – on its international services – does not want to have to make a judgement in these particular countries. The result is that it doesn’t use it so much in the UK which actually annoys some people who say ‘well how else would you describe what’s going on?’.”

Steve Hewlett: “Gavin; I heard some BBC correspondents use the word unattributed [in reporting on the Paris attacks] …ah….and your guidelines sort of say you shouldn’t.”

Gavin Allen: “They don’t really say that. […] But it doesn’t say don’t use it. It’s quite an important distinction. I mean Stewart’s absolutely right; there are complications about using it when you’re broadcasting on the World Service etc. But actually it’s not that we don’t use the word. I think invariably it’s about how much does it clarify and how much does it cloud.”

This discussion yet again highlights the fact that the BBC’s approach to the use of the word terror and its derivatives when reporting on events in Israel is not rooted solely in the objective of informing audiences of the nature of the events which have taken place. After all, shooting and stabbing passengers on a city bus in Jerusalem is obviously intended to “shock and terrorise people in a city” in exactly the same way as planting a bomb in London or gunning down concert-goers in Paris.

It has been clear for a long time that the BBC employs differing approaches to such obviously similar acts of terrorism because its handling of the topic does not distinguish between method and aims, means and ends. The result is that even though the acts may be identical or similar, the BBC’s use – or not – of the word terrorism hinges on its political judgement of the aims of the perpetrators and the description of the means is adjusted accordingly.

In this discussion, however, we also gain insight into an additional factor which apparently prevents the BBC from reporting terrorism against Israelis consistently and accurately: second-guessing of how the description of, say, the brutal murders of early morning worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue as an act of terror would be received by specific audience groups – and the adjustment of language accordingly. Interestingly, the incident at a mosque in Kuwait in June was described by the BBC as a terror attack on its international services and on social media. 

That bizarre approach clearly not only patronizes and stereotypes BBC audiences worldwide (does the BBC really think that its Middle East audiences for example are too delicate to hear the politically motivated murders of Israelis described as terror?) but obviously also seriously undermines the corporation’s claim that it strives to achieve consistency “across all our services” when reporting terrorism.

Related Articles:

BBC News website does ‘one man’s terrorist’

 

The BBC, terrorism and ‘consistency’

The BBC’s guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” states: [emphasis added]

Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism. We recognise the existence and the reality of terrorism – at this point in the twenty first century we could hardly do otherwise. Moreover, we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.

We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services. We have learnt from the experience of covering such events in Northern Ireland as much as in Israel, Spain, Russia, Southern Africa or the many other places where violence divides communities, and where we seek to be seen as objective by all sides, that labels applied to groups can sometimes hinder rather than help.”

And:

“The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words “terrorist” or “terrorist group” can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. [….]

We also need to ask ourselves whether by using “terrorist” we are taking a political position, or certainly one that may be seen as such.”

However, as has frequently been noted on these pages the BBC’s reporting on terrorism is in fact anything but consistent and the corporation’s reporting on the wave of terror attacks which took place in three countries on June 26th provided another example of that phenomenon.

When two terrorists armed with a gun, knives and axes walked into a Jerusalem synagogue in November 2014 and slaughtered early morning worshippers, the BBC did not categorise that incident as a terror attack.

“One outstanding – although predictable – feature of the BBC’s coverage is that despite the fact that the core story was about a terror attack perpetrated on the congregation of a synagogue, in all of the above reports the word terror and its derivatives were never used directly by the BBC. References to terrorism came only in the form of quotes from Israeli officials (placed in inverted commas by the BBC), from Israeli interviewees or from the US Secretary of State in the filmed report of his statement to the press.”

When at least one terrorist armed with a rifle walked onto a beach in Tunisia in June 2015 and gunned down equally unsuspecting tourists, the language used by the BBC in some of its coverage was very clear.

Tunisia 1

Tunisia 2

Coverage of the other attacks which took place on the same day in France and Kuwait also employed the word terror.

France 1

France 2

BBC terror attacks 1

One can only imagine what the public and parliamentary reaction would have been if – as it did following the January terror attacks in Paris – the BBC had promoted the view that the word terrorist was too “loaded” for use in coverage of the murder of British holiday makers in Tunisia.

But the fact that in this case appropriate use of the word terror was seen in some of the BBC’s coverage of these attacks only serves to further highlight the inconsistency of its practice and the absence of universality in its professed avoidance of making “value judgements”.

Related Articles:

No terror please, we’re the British Broadcasting Corporation

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’