When did the BBC begin avoiding the use of the word terror in Israel reporting?

BBC Watch is often asked in what year did the BBC’s policy of avoiding the use of the word terrorism when reporting on Palestinian attacks against Israelis begin.

While we do not have a definitive answer to that question, some examples from the BBC’s archived reports indicate that the language used by the corporation when reporting Palestinian terrorism has long displayed the very “value judgements” it claims to avoid.

A BBC report from September 6th 1970 relates to the Dawson’s Field hijackings by the PFLP. Titled “Hundreds held in series of hijacks“, the report opens: [all emphasis added]

“Four New York-bound airliners have been hijacked over western Europe in an unprecedented operation carried out by a militant Palestinian group.

Three of the planes taken over by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have been flown to two different locations in the Middle East.”

Later on readers find the following:

“The PFLP have demanded the release of three Arab dissidents held in a Swiss jail in return for the 382 passengers they are holding hostage.”

Those so-called “dissidents” were in fact terrorists “serving 12 year sentences in Switzerland for attacking an Israeli airliner in Zurich in 1969”.

Later on in that article, the word “dissident” is also used to describe Leila Khaled.

“On the El Al flight a passenger pinned down an Arab female armed with a grenade who was attempting to get onto the flight deck.

Her fellow hijacker – a male armed with a hand gun – was tackled by a steward.

Several shots were fired, killing the male Arab militant and seriously wounding the crew member, but the pilot was able to make an emergency landing at Heathrow.

The captured female dissident was arrested by armed detectives at the airport and taken to a police station in west London.”

A BBC report dating from September 6th 1972 – “Olympic hostages killed in gun battle” – repeatedly describes the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics terror attack as “guerillas” despite the fact that their victims were civilians.

“All nine of the Israeli athletes kidnapped on Tuesday from the Olympic Village in Munich have been killed in a gun battle at a nearby airport.

A policeman also died in the shooting at the Furstenfeldbruck military airbase, along with four of the guerrillas from the Palestinian group Black September.

Witnesses at the airport said the shooting began when police snipers opened fire on the militants. […]

The guerrillas had previously threatened to kill all the hostages if 200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel were not released. […]

The West German government had offered to pay any price for the release of the athletes, but was told by the guerrillas’ chief he cared for “neither money nor lives”.”

A report from September 19th 1972 – “Parcel bomb attack on Israeli embassy” – states:

“Palestinian extremist group Black September is thought to have posted the letters. Some were also sent to the Israeli embassy in Paris, sparking a worldwide security alert.”

A report on the Ma’alot massacre dated May 15th 1974  – “Teenagers die in Israeli school attack” – describes convicted terrorists, including Lod airport massacre perpetrator Kozo Okamoto, as follows:

“The Israeli government talked to the hostage-takers, via a loudhailer, and had agreed to release 26 political prisoners held in Israel.”

None of the above articles – or others dating from the 1970s – uses the words terror, terrorists or terrorism. An exception to that rule is found in an article titled “Gunmen kill 16 at two European airports” from December 27th 1985.

“At least 16 people have been killed and more than 100 injured during simultaneous twin terrorist attacks at Rome and Vienna airports.

Gunmen opened fire on passengers queuing to check-in luggage at departure desks for Israel’s national airline, El Al. […]

It comes amid reports airport authorities received warnings Arab militant groups were planning a pre-Christmas terrorist campaign at terminals across the world.”

However, as we see, the BBC’s failure to use accurate language to describe Palestinian terrorism and its perpetrators has been in evidence for nearly half a century. Is it therefore any wonder that so many contemporary British politicians who grew up watching and listening to the BBC so often get the Arab-Israeli conflict wrong?

Related Articles:

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BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

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

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

BBC’s favourite ‘icon of terrorism’ continues to advocate terror

We have previously noted on these pages the BBC’s periodic promotion of PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled as an ‘icon’.R4 Women of Terror

“Leila Khaled was probably the most famous female hijacker in the world in the late 1960s – beautiful, dangerous and politically committed to doing whatever might further the Palestinian cause.

She featured in an iconic photo – sultry-eyed, a Kalashnikov at her side, headscarf carefully draped over her head.” (BBC News website, July 28, 2015)

“In the space of a few weeks, a fascinated news media had cemented her position as an icon of terrorism” (BBC Radio 4, October 21, 2013)

The video below – translated by MEMRI – shows Khaled speaking at an event in Germany earlier this year. In addition to glorifying terrorism, she (not for the first time) rejects negotiations with Israel in favour of violence, stating:

“…negotiations will be held only with knives and weapons.”

One of course wonders if the BBC has ever asked itself whether its repeated romanticisation of a person who openly advocates violence and terrorism meets the expectations of its funding public.

BBC WS Newshour erases perpetrators from item about hijacking

The March 29th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item concerning the same day’s hijacking of an EgyptAir plane. Following a report on the incident, the item turned to a more general topic, introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy (from 34:50 here) as follows:Hijacking item on Newshour

“Well let’s hear now from someone who knows a thing or two about hijacking; he’s 85 year-old Uri Bar Lev. He’s a retired Israeli pilot and back in 1970 when he was flying an El Al plane from Amsterdam to New York he became the first and possibly the only pilot to foil a hijacking in mid-air.”

The ensuing conversation with Uri Bar Lev was also promoted separately on social media but remarkably, one rather relevant piece of information was omitted from the entire item.

At no point were listeners informed that the plane piloted by Bar Lev was the target of an attempted hijacking by the Palestinian terrorist organisation the PFLP. Especially when one considers that over the past two and a half years the BBC has produced at least three items of content concerning that story and has repeatedly portrayed one of the hijackers on Bar Lev’s flight – Leila Khaled – as an ‘icon’, that is quite an omission.

One to watch out for on BBC Radio 4

This coming Monday evening, August 3rd, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a programme titled “Women of Terror“. Its synopsis reads as follows:R4 Women of Terror

“From Russia’s 19th century Nihilists to contemporary Sri Lanka and Palestine women have played central roles in terrorist organisations. Attacks planned or executed by women attract attention and inspire fear in a way that male terrorists can only dream of.

Why are we still shocked by female terrorists? Why are they so effective? How can women be dissuaded from joining terrorist organisations? BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, Bridget Kendall investigates the motives that drive women to kill and considers the response of the media and the public to those who have planted bombs, hijacked planes and killed innocents in their quest for political change.”

The claim that the programme “considers the response of the media […] to those who have planted bombs, hijacked planes and killed innocents…” is particularly interesting given the images selected to illustrate both its webpage and an accompanying promotional article by Bridget Kendall which appeared on the BBC News website on July 28th under the title “What drives women to terrorist acts?“.R4 Women of Terror written

Of course BBC audiences are no strangers to those photos of PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled seeing as they have been used in prior BBC content – and not infrequently with linkage to the word ‘icon’ or ‘iconic’ – as seen in the caption to the photograph heading Kendall’s article: “Leila Khaled in iconic pose”. In the body of the article readers are told:

“Leila Khaled was probably the most famous female hijacker in the world in the late 1960s – beautiful, dangerous and politically committed to doing whatever might further the Palestinian cause.

She featured in an iconic photo – sultry-eyed, a Kalashnikov at her side, headscarf carefully draped over her head.” [emphasis added]

Kendall’s 1,277 word article has two hundred and twenty-six words devoted to Khaled alone and the only one of the female terrorists she mentions who is deemed worthy of an insert carrying a further 140 words of biography is Leila Khaled.

As recently as last December another BBC Radio 4 programme also purported to examine “how media organisations tread the fine line of giving publicity to terrorists and reporting the news” but was plagued by accuracy and impartiality issues in its portrayal of Leila Khaled’s organisation’s Dawson’s Field hijackings.

It remains to be seen whether Bridget Kendall’s efforts will be any more successful but her promo article’s romanticised embellishment of the Khaled ‘icon’ does not bode well.

Related Articles:

BBC R4 gives a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled

BBC R4 programme on terror and the media rebrands PFLP terrorists

 

 

BBC R4 programme on terror and the media rebrands PFLP terrorists

On December 22nd BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme called “Terror and the Oxygen of Publicity” made by the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera. The broadcast is available here and individual clips from the programme have also been put online here.Gordon Corera prog

According to the programme’s synopsis, it “examines the jihadists’ social media strategy, the attempts to combat it, and how media organisations tread the fine line of giving publicity to terrorists and reporting the news”. Near the beginning of the broadcast Corera states that his aim is “to ask what the media and government can and should do”.

There is much of interest in Corera’s programme but one topic he does not address is that of the media’s use of language when reporting on terrorism. As BBC Watch readers are doubtless aware, that subject is a particularly pertinent one in relation to the corporation itself as it regularly employs double standards regarding the use of the word terrorism and by doing so communicates to its audiences which political violence it regards as terror and which – due to its own political motivations – it does not. Ironically, listeners heard a small example of that phenomenon early on in this programme.

Corera’s introduction to the topic of what he describes as the “relationship between terror and modern media” comes through the example of the Dawson’s Field hijackings in 1970 which he describes thus:

“A Palestinian group called the PFLP had simultaneously hijacked a number of passenger planes and then flown them to a landing strip in the middle of the Jordanian desert known as Dawson’s Field.”

He later states:

“The PFLP’s spectacular act was intended to capture the world’s attention. They wanted the release of political prisoners held by Israel in return for the hostages…” [emphasis added]

By describing members of an internationally designated Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization as ‘political prisoners’ Corera of course promotes a stance which speaks volumes about his own approach to the subject of PFLP terrorism. But as well as the obvious impartiality issue raised by the use of that phrase, Corera also fails on accuracy.

The Dawson’s Field hijackers did indeed demand the release of prisoners held in Israel, but – as shown in US State Department cables from the time – the PFLP’s primary demand was for the release of prisoners held in three other countries.

“The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has issued a  72-hour ultimatum to the Swiss Government to release three Palestinian Commandos currently serving 12 year sentences in Switzerland for attacking an Israeli airliner in Zurich in 1969.”

Those prisoners were not incarcerated for ‘political’ reasons but due to their having launched a terror attack.

“On February 18, 1969 El Al flight 432, on its way from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv via Zurich, was due to take off at Zurich International Airport. While slowly advancing toward the take-off starting point, the plane was attacked by four terrorists, who opened automatic fire and hurled demolition charges at the aircraft.”

A later US State Department cable states:

“According to news reports, the PFLP has made three demands for release of the aircraft and passengers:  1) release and return to Amman of three PFLP commandos imprisoned in Switzerland; 2) return to Amman of the commando killed in the abortive El Al hijacking and release of his female accomplice; and 3) release of three fedayeen being held in West Germany. A fourth demand, relayed by the PFLP office in Beirut, calls for the release of all fedayeen held in Israel.”

That “female accomplice” was terrorist Leila Khaled who, together with Patrick Argüello, tried to hijack an El Al plane as part of the Dawson’s Field operation. The three terrorists imprisoned in West Germany had carried out an attack on a bus carrying El Al passengers at Munich airport on February 10th 1970, killing one person and wounding 11 others.

The provision of the “oxygen of publicity” for terrorists by the mainstream media and on social media is certainly an interesting topic for discussion. No less crucial to that debate, however, is the issue of how the mainstream media picks and chooses its terrorists and the way in which journalists’ own political opinions affect their portrayal of terrorism to the wider world – as seen in this example unintentionally provided by Gordon Corera.

At the beginning of the programme Corera informs listeners that:

“Here in the newsroom some of the toughest decisions relate to how we cover the subject of terrorism – even the use of the ‘T-word’ itself.”

Having set out to ask “what the media […] can and should do”, it is clear that a topic awaits for a sequel to Corera’s programme.

Related Articles:

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

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

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?

BBC R4 gives a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled

BBC R4 gives a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled

The attempted hijacking of El Al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York by Leila Khaled and Nicaraguan Patrick Arguello of the PFLP on September 6th 1970 lasted some three minutes and twenty seconds according to a reconstruction later carried out by the Israel Security Agency.

On October 21st 2013 BBC Radio 4 gave Leila Khaled a platform lasting almost the same length of time from which to promote her unchallenged narrative of the event in a fifteen-minute programme titled “Hijack!” (available here or here on iPlayer) which forms part of Fergal Keane’s series “Terror Through Time”, previously discussed on these pages. 

Terror Through Time Hijack

Keane states:

“Leila Khaled fled with her family from her birthplace of Haifa after the Israeli victory in the war of 1948. She was imbued with the determination to strike back against Israel.”

As is well documented, Khaled’s opprobrium would of course have been better directed against the Arab leaders who instructed their population to leave Haifa – even before the fighting had reached that area.

At 04:25 listeners can hear Khaled laughing about the stringent security measures now necessary on all flights as a result of terrorism. At 04:33 Keane says:

“But the operation already had problems. Two PFLP members had missed the flight, leaving just Khaled and Arguello to seize a jet that was protected by armed Israeli guards.”

In fact the other two members of the terror cell had not “missed the flight” but were prevented from boarding it by Israeli security. Maariv flight 219

Khaled then says:

“After half an hour we stood up and I took the hand grenades and with my teeth I opened them. The minute we stood up and screamed, they began to shoot – all the security men from behind us.”

So listeners are led to believe that she and her accomplice were shot at immediately after having “stood up and screamed”.  According to the ISA reconstruction however, it was Arguello who fired the first shot, wounding flight attendant Shlomo Vider when the latter tried bare-handed to prevent him from approaching the cockpit. A female flight attendant managed to get to the back of the plane where one of the two air marshals on board (the other was in the cockpit at the time) was sitting – unaware at that point that a hijacking attempt was ongoing – and he then moved to the front of the aircraft where Khaled and Arguello were situated. The air marshal, together with the wounded, unarmed flight attendant, tried to overpower Arguello and the air marshal shot Arguello. The air marshal then overcame Khaled and, together with a passenger, managed to find the grenade’s pin and neutralize it.

Keane however allows Khaled to present an unchallenged version of events according to which she becomes the victim of an “attack”.

“I said OK, you don’t want to open [the cockpit door], so I made like this – one hand up, one hand down – with the hand grenades. I count for three: if you don’t open I will explode the plane. I said it, but I didn’t want to explode the plane. They did not open the cockpit. In a minute they had two attack me from behind and I fainted.”

Towards the end of the item, Keane remarks that:

“In the space of a few weeks, a fascinated news media had cemented her [Khaled’s] position as an icon of terrorism”

Most licence fee-payers would probably find it highly regrettable that by providing a platform for the unchallenged propaganda of terrorists, the BBC continues to embellish that “icon”.