Reviewing the language used in BBC reports on the Munich Olympics Massacre

This week will mark the 45th anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre and the dedication of a new memorial in the city.

This week also marks 45 years of BBC News failure to describe the members of the PLO faction that perpetrated the attack as terrorists.

The BBC’s ‘On This Day’ archive includes an item dated September 6th 1972 and titled “Olympic hostages killed in gun battle“. In that report the BBC described the perpetrators as “guerrillas” (despite the fact that their victims were civilians), “militants”, “kidnappers” and “gunmen”- but not terrorists.

That editorial policy continued to dominate BBC News coverage of topics linked to the Munich Olympics attack throughout the years that followed, as seen in the examples below. [all emphasis added]

Athens 2004 remembers Munich 1972“, August 20th 2004:

“Thirty-two years ago, 11 Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympics, after Palestinian militants stormed the Israeli team headquarters. […]

On 5 September, 1972, eight members of the Palestinian militant group Black September raided the Israeli team headquarters.[…]

Over the next 24 hours, the tense stand-off between gunmen and police was played out in front of television viewers worldwide.

Three helicopters provided by the German authorities took the Israelis and the gunmen to a military airfield outside Munich, supposedly to catch a flight out of Germany.”

Last Palestinian linked to 1972 Munich massacre dies“, August 18th 2010:

“Two Israelis were killed by the group at the athletes’ village, and nine more died in a botched rescue attempt by the German police. A German policeman and five Palestinian gunmen were also killed.”

Israeli widow of 1972 Munich Olympics massacre slams IOC“, August 7th 2012:

“Eleven athletes and officials, including Mrs Spitzer’s husband fencing coach Andre Spitzer, died during the attack at the Munich Olympics, after the Black September Palestinian militant group kidnapped Israeli team members. […]

Five Palestinian hostage takers were killed. Others were later killed by Israeli intelligence forces.”

The Munich massacre remembered“, September 5th 2012:

“The 1972 summer Olympics are mostly remembered for tragedy, rather than sporting achievements. It was there that 11 Israelis were killed after being taken hostage by members of a Palestinian militant group, Black September, on 5 September.

Two died in the athletes’ Olympic village in Munich. The others were killed during a gun battle with West German police at a nearby airfield – as the militants tried to take them out of the country.” 

Germany and Israel mark Munich massacre in ceremonies“, September 5th 2012:

“Wreaths were laid earlier inside the Olympic Village where Palestinian gunmen seized the athletes. […]

On 5 September 1972, eight gunmen burst into the Israeli athletes’ quarters, killing two immediately and taking nine athletes and coaches hostage. […]

During the fighting that followed, the gunmen killed their remaining nine hostages. Five of the gunmen were killed, as was one German policeman.”

Israeli Mossad spy Mike Harari dies, aged 87“, September 22nd 2014 (discussed here):

“Mike Harari, 87, orchestrated missions including the targeting of militants whom Israel held responsible for the massacre of its Olympics team in 1972. […]

The group had killed two Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich. Nine others whom they had also taken hostage were killed during a gun battle between the militants and West German police at a nearby airfield. The group was trying to take the hostages out of the country.”

This week in history: 31 Aug – 6 Sept“, August 28th 2015 (discussed here):

“The week that 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian extremists at the Munich Olympics…”

Widow welcomes Munich massacre memorial“, August 2nd 2016:

“The killing of 11 members of the Israeli team at the Munich Games of 1972 remains the darkest chapter in Olympic history.

They died after being taken hostage by Palestinian militants inside the Olympic village.”

Widow’s wish sees ceremony mark killings of Israeli athletes“, August 3rd 2016:

“In the early hours of 5 September, Palestinian militants from the Black September group clambered over security fences at the Olympic Village, made their way to the Israelis’ quarters and took a group of them hostage. […]

The militants, who murdered two of the Israeli athletes, demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.”

One exception to that editorial policy is found in an article on the BBC Sport website written by the veteran BBC sports reporter Barry Davies in 2012:

“At the Munich 1972 Olympics, Palestinian terrorists calling themselves Black September attacked members of the Israeli Olympic team in their quarters at Block G, 31 Connollystrasse, in the Olympic Village. […]

The terrorists had asked for the release of 234 people from jails in Israel, but Israel would not negotiate. Eventually, there was supposedly an agreement that the group would be flown out of the country and helicopters were brought in. In reality, the Germans’ plan was to ambush the kidnappers.

However, they made a big mistake. They thought there were only five terrorists – but there were eight.”

Another BBC sports journalist – Peter Scrivener – also used accurate language in a blog post written in 2008 which is still available on the BBC Sport website:

“The 1972 Games in Munich were into their second week when, in the early hours of 5 September, Palestinian terrorists gained access to the Olympic village and killed two members of the Israeli team. […]

Negotiations led to the terrorists taking the hostages, by helicopter, to a military airfield at Fürstenfeldbruck, where they believed they would be boarding a plane to Egypt.”

An additional exception to the rule appears in the synopsis to an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Sporting Witness’ that was broadcast in April 2016.

“Shaul Ladany is a long-distance Israeli race-walker who set world records that stand to this day. But, even more remarkably, he survived a childhood in the Belsen concentration camp and then the terrorist attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics in 1972.”

And when the BBC aired the film ‘One Day in September’ in the year 2000, an accompanying article on the BBC Sport website used appropriate language:

“The world looked on in horror 28 years ago as Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic Village. Eleven were murdered. […]

But the picture darkened on 5 September when a group of eight Palestinian terrorists raided the Israeli team headquarters. […]

Over the next 24 hours, the tense stand-off between terrorists and police was played out in front of TV viewers worldwide.”

Notwithstanding those exceptions (and the impression that BBC sports journalists make a better job of using accurate terminology than their counterparts in the news department), the dominant BBC editorial policy over the years has been to refrain from describing the 1972 attack on the Israeli Olympic team as terrorism and its perpetrators as terrorists.

However, in a Radio 4 programme broadcast earlier this year, BBC audiences were told that:

“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.”

After forty-five years it is clearly high time for BBC News to ensure that reports relating to the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre use accurate and consistent terminology which clarifies to audiences that the incident was an act of terror perpetrated by terrorists.  

Related Articles:

BBC still won’t call Munich Olympics massacre perpetrators terrorists

BBC Radio 4’s double standards on response to terrorism

 

 

 

 

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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 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

Related Articles:

Munich Olympics terrorists get BBC rebranding  

Munich Olympics terrorists get BBC rebranding

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?