BBC News changes its description of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

In August 2014 the BBC News website published an article about the re-opening of the Chabad centre in Mumbai that had been closed for almost six years after it was targeted in a terror attack in 2008.

As was noted here at the time, some four hours after its original publication the article was amended and the word ‘terror’ was removed from its opening paragraph.

Version 1:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai is due to reopen, nearly six years after it was attacked by gunmen in terror attacks on the city.”

Version 2:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai has reopened, nearly six years after it was stormed by gunmen who attacked the city.”

An explanation for that change in wording was never forthcoming but on July 4th visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page came across that article again in the form of a link in a report concerning the visit of the prime minister of India to Israel – “Narendra Modi to become first Indian PM to visit Israel“.

In this latest article, however, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai are accurately described as terror attacks.

The BBC claims that:

“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism.”

And:

“We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services.” 

As regular readers know, that policy is not upheld and the terminology used by the BBC to describe and categorise attacks varies according to perpetrator and geographical location. But as this small example shows, consistency can even be lacking when the same story is reported on the same BBC platform.

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Why was the word terror removed from the BBC’s report on reopening of Nariman House?

On August 26th the BBC News website’s Asia page ran a story about the reopening of Nariman House in Mumbai: the Chabad centre which was the target of a terror attack in November 2008 in which six people were killed including four Israelis.

The BBC’s description of the 2008 events in the article originally titled “Mumbai Jewish centre to reopen six years after attack” was as follows:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai is due to reopen, nearly six years after it was attacked by gunmen in terror attacks on the city.

Six Jews died at the centre, which was one of several places targeted in the November 2008 attack.

Indian forces eventually regained control of the centre and killed several gunmen.

Attacks on a railway station, luxury hotels and the centre claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.”

Later on readers were told:

“In 2012, India executed Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 attacks.

Qasab was part of a heavily armed and well-drilled, 10-member militant unit which arrived in Mumbai by sea on 26 November.

The men split into groups to attack various targets. Their assault on the Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi Trident Hotel and the Jewish centre went on for more than two days.”

Whilst the attacks were correctly described as “terror attacks”, readers will note that in the original version of the report the terrorists were described exclusively as “gunmen” from an anonymous “militant unit”. BBC audiences were not told the name of the terrorist organization to which they belonged or informed that it is proscribed by numerous bodies and countries including the UN, India, Pakistan, the US, the UK, the EU and Australia.

Some four hours after its initial publication the article was updated and its title changed to “Mumbai Jewish centre reopens six years after attack“. Notably, the phrase “terror attacks” was expunged from the amended report’s introduction.

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai has reopened, nearly six years after it was stormed by gunmen who attacked the city.

Six Jews were killed at the centre, which was one of several places targeted in the November 2008 attacks.

Indian forces regained control of the building after several days and killed two gunmen there.

The attacks at a railway station, two hotels and other landmarks claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.”

Nariman House both

At the bottom of that later version of the report the following sentence was added:

“Pakistan-based banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was blamed for the attacks, which soured India-Pakistan ties.”

Readers are still not given any information concerning a topic highly relevant to this particular story about the Chabad Centre in Mumbai: the ideology of Lashkar-e-Taiba.  

“…LeT’s professed ideology goes beyond merely challenging India’s sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The LeT’s agenda, as outlined in a pamphlet titled, “Why are we waging jihad,” includes the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India, it says. The pamphlet also declares the United States, Israel, and India as existential enemies of Islam…”

Even the BBC’s own tepid profile of Lashkar-e-Taiba which has not been updated since 2010 is not included as a link in this report.

The BBC cannot claim to meet its obligation to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” as long as it continues to pussyfoot around the topic of Islamist terrorism, be it in Asia, the Middle East or anywhere else.