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?

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BBC Radio 4’s double standards on response to terrorism

Veteran BBC journalist Peter Taylor recently produced written and audio reports relating to his long career reporting terrorism.

The BBC News website’s UK page published an article titled “Peter Taylor: How has terror changed in 50 years?” on March 31st, the majority of which relates to Northern Ireland.

The April 1st edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ programme was titled “Reporting Terror: 50 Years Behind the Headlines” and its synopsis reads as follows:

“Peter Taylor reflects on his 50 year career reporting terrorism.

When Peter Taylor stepped nervously onto a plane in 1967, bound for the Middle East, he had no idea it was to be the start of a journalistic mission he would still be pursuing fifty years later.

At the time “terrorism” was barely in our vocabulary. In the hundred or so documentaries he has made on the subject since then, Peter has tried to get behind the headlines to understand and explain a phenomenon which has grown to affect us all.

Peter has reported the escalation of terrorism from the IRA and its Loyalist counterparts to Al Qaeda and the so called Islamic State. He has met the victims of terror, those involved in perpetrating terrorist acts and members of the intelligence services tasked with stopping them.

Revisiting his own extraordinary archive has given Peter the chance to reflect on the evolution of terrorism and to recall some of his most memorable interviews.

“There are moments when the interviews are chilling, moments when they’re shocking and at other points they provoked a sharp intake of breath – surprising me by how prophetic they were.””

Significantly, Taylor made no attempt to define terrorism during that almost one hour-long programme, telling listeners at one point that it is “open to different definitions”.

However, at 05:31 minutes into the programme, Taylor did provide listeners with the sole example of what he termed ‘state terrorism’.

“Terrorism can mean different things to different people; it isn’t black and white. States allegedly resort to it too, as Israel did to avenge the 1972 Munich Olympic Games massacre. Eleven Israeli athletes died following an attack by Palestinians from a shadowy group known as Black September. In revenge, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, covertly assassinated those suspected of involvement in the attack. […]

The Mossad assassinated at least eleven of its targets. Since then, Palestinian attacks on Israelis have continued and Israel has continued to retaliate with targeted killings; a tactic more recently replicated in Western drone strikes against IS and Al Qaeda.”

However, when Taylor later (at 21:07) described a British response to terror attacks he did not categorise it as ‘state terror’.

“In the wake of Brighton and other IRA atrocities, the Brits hit back. The SAS was the cutting edge. Between 1983 and 1992 they shot dead 28 IRA suspects.”

As we know, the BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements” and so it comes as no surprise to see the perpetrators of the Munich Olympics massacre described – as usual – without that word being used.

However, the BBC is clearly nowhere near as reluctant to make a “value judgement” concerning Israel’s response to acts of terrorism – but, notably, refrains from describing its own government’s very similar actions in the same terms.

Related Articles:

BBC still won’t call Munich Olympics massacre perpetrators terrorists

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

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

 

BBC still won’t call Munich Olympics massacre perpetrators terrorists

In 2014 the BBC described the terrorists responsible for the murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games as “militants”.

Harari art text

In 2015 the same terrorists were rebranded as “Palestinian extremists” and a “Palestinian extremist group”.

This week in history Munich

In a filmed report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 2nd 2016, the terrorists are described as “militants”.

Munich massacre memorial

The same euphemistic term is used in a written report by Jonathan Josephs which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page the following day. 

Munich massacre written

Once again the ‘values’ behind the BBC’s supposed avoidance of “value judgements” are on display.

 

 

More BBC News rebranding of Munich Olympics terrorists

The current edition of the BBC News feature ‘This week in history’ includes the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

As can be seen below, both in the synopsis to the clip appearing on the BBC News website and in the on-screen caption in the video itself, the BBC has once again avoided the use of the word terror, preferring to describe the perpetrators as “Palestinian extremists” and a “Palestinian extremist group”.

This week in history Munich

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On September 22nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Israeli Mossad spy Mike Harari dies, aged 87“.

Remarkably, in that report the terrorists responsible for the murders of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games are rebranded “militants”, the terrorist organization to which they belonged is termed merely a “group” and no mention is made of the Black September Organisation’s links to Fatah and the PLO.

Harari art text

No less bizarre is the article’s failure to inform readers that the rescue operation at Entebbe which it mentions was brought about by a hijacking carried out by another Palestinian terrorist organization – the PFLP – and just as interesting is the fact that the title of this report was changed some thirty-five minutes after its publication, with the original headline having read “Mossad agent behind Palestinian assassinations dies”.

The BBC’s ‘rationale’ for avoiding the use of the word terror and its derivatives is that the term “carries value judgements”.  As we have on occasion noted here before, the corporation’s abstention from use of the word in some circumstances and geographic locations (see related articles below) is evidence of a double standard which reveals politically motivated “value judgements” in itself.

Related Articles:

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

No terror please, we’re the British Broadcasting Corporation

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?