More mapping of BBC inconsistency in terrorism reporting

An internet search for recent BBC reports including the word ‘terror’ produces two results:

Terrorism most immediate threat to UK, says MI6“, BBC News website, December 8th, 2016.terror-uk-art

“The scale of the terrorism threat to the UK is “unprecedented”, the head of MI6 has said.

Alex Younger said UK intelligence and security services had disrupted 12 terrorist plots since June 2013.”

Terror suspect arrested in Rotterdam in possession of Kalashnikov“, BBC News website, December 9th, 2016.

“Police in Rotterdam have arrested a 30-year-old man suspected of preparing an “act of terrorism”, prosecutors say. […]

The Netherlands is currently on a terror threat level four out of five, meaning there is a real chance of an attack, but no concrete evidence.

According to a report published last month by the National Co-ordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism, there is concern that returning jihadists could be a threat to security in the Netherlands.”

The BBC News website has also produced reports over the past few days concerning actual acts of terror in several locations. However, none of those reports currently includes the words ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’.

Madagali: Dozens killed in Nigeria suicide attack“, BBC News website, December 9th, 2016.

Yemen suicide bomb kills dozens in payday queue“, BBC News website, December 10th, 2016.

Somalia conflict: Deadly blast rocks Mogadishu port area“, BBC News website, December 11th, 2016.

Istanbul Besiktas Turkey: Stadium blasts kill 38 people“, BBC News website, December 10th/11th, 2016. (Earlier versions of the report which included quotes using the word ‘terror’/’terrorist’ were amended.)

Bomb attack near Cairo Coptic cathedral kills at least 25“, BBC News website, December 11th, 2016.

Once again we see that the BBC’s long-standing failure to distinguish between method and aims produces inconsistent reporting, with journalists sometimes following the problematic BBC guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ and sometimes not – often depending upon geographical location of the story. 

Related Articles:

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

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

Continuing the mapping of BBC inconsistency in terrorism reporting

BBC’s double standards on terrorism highlighted again




The BBC version of Michelle Obama’s address

As readers are probably aware, Michelle Obama took the opportunity of Mother’s Day in the US to deliver an address on the subject of an issue which has been dominating the news in the past few weeks; the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram.

Here is a transcript of Ms Obama’s address, which is introduced as follows in the official press release.

“In this week’s address, First Lady Michelle Obama honored all mothers on this upcoming Mother’s Day and offered her thoughts, prayers and support in the wake of the unconscionable terrorist kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.” [emphasis added]

Ms Obama’s speech included the following passages: [emphasis added]

“Like millions of people across the globe, my husband and I are outraged and heartbroken over the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls from their school dormitory in the middle of the night. 

This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education – grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls. […]

The girls themselves also knew full well the dangers they might encounter. 

Their school had recently been closed due to terrorist threats…but these girls still insisted on returning to take their exams. […]

As Malala said in her address to the United Nations, she said “The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” “

But, as Arnold Roth points out, in the BBC News website’s May 10th written report on Michelle Obama’s address, all mention of the word ‘terrorist’ has been expunged and Boko Haram – which was not mentioned by name by Ms Obama herself – is described as an “Islamist militant group”. That same euphemistic description is used in the synopsis of an abridged video of Ms Obama’s address which also appears on the BBC News website.Michelle Obama video 

The BBC’s guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” states:

“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.” [emphasis added]

Indeed, the BBC did not “change the word terrorist” when quoting Ms Obama: instead it just chose not to quote the parts of her address which used that word and to present audiences with its own paraphrasing of her words.

The BBC claims that the use of the word ‘terror’ represents a “value judgement”. As has been posited here before, the avoidance of that term is often no less a value judgement in itself and – in the case of teenage girls abducted and apparently scheduled for sale into slavery by a terrorist organization – a particularly miserable one.

Related Articles:

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

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

A former BBC reporter recounts an interesting episode in BBC history

h/t JS

The April 4th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the new film about the Nigerian civil war ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ . The film’s director Biyi Bandele was interviewed by presenter John Humphrys, along with the author Frederick Forsyth who, as assistant diplomatic correspondent at the time, covered the conflict for the BBC. The item can be heard here for a limited period of time from 2:46:58. Today 4 4 14

Parts of the conversation with Frederick Forsyth include some thought-provoking background on BBC reporting of events at the time.

John Humphrys: “You were sent by the BBC to cover that and you ended up resigning. Well, whether you were sacked or resigned, you left the BBC and that’s because effectively, you did something reporters are never meant to do; you took sides.”

Frederick Forsyth: “Well that’s the great smear and it’s not true.”

JH: “I didn’t mean it as a smear but – it was a very honourable thing that you did…”

FF: “No, no; hold on. In the early days, before the children started dying, it was a non-war and I was sent down there as assistant diplomatic correspondent of the BBC with a briefing and the briefing came from the British High Commissioner in Lagos. It broadly said this is what has led to the secession of eastern Nigeria and therefore the civil war. This is what you’ll find when you get there and this is what’s going to happen in short order: this is a non-war; this is going to be wrapped up in about fourteen days.”

JH: “That’s a load of rubbish.”

FF: “A load of rubbish. I got there and I found absolute garbage from start to finish. But being young and naïve and not knowing anything about internal BBC politics…”

JH: “As they were then.”

FF: “As they were then – and please don’t imperil your mortal soul by suggesting there’s no such thing. Having discovered that what I’d been briefed was complete garbage, I said so, and it didn’t go down well. So I was told virtually to endorse, to authenticate, what I knew to be a tissue of lies and I said I can’t do that.”

JH: “Because millions of children were dying.”

FF: “Well no – this was long before.”

JH: “Or rather they hadn’t started to die at that point.”

FF: “There was nothing emotional about it at that time – it was a straight evaluation of a situation. The Nigerian army was not conquering all before it. It was stuck on the border. Nobody virtually was dying but I was told that I had to report sweeping victories by the Nigerian Federal Army.”

JH: “Told by?”

FF: “By Broadcasting House. This was what you might call the policy. It was being said out of Lagos, you see. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s propaganda ministry was publishing all this […] but Angus McDermott who was the West Africa correspondent was filing these claims from the propaganda ministry and they were appearing with attribution at paragraph three or four, so it sounded like flat statements of fact with the authority of the BBC behind it. So why wouldn’t I confirm? And that was where it was at. Therefore if I couldn’t confirm what must be true because the British High Commissioner was saying it was true, even though he was 400 miles from the fighting – the non-fighting – and I was in the middle of it, then I must be biased.” [….]

JH: “But the story that was put out was that you’d gone native.”

FF: “Yes I know. That was – they had to smear a reporter who’d done the unthinkable.” […]

JH: “I have to say that ehm…and I’m sure you’d accept… well I don’t know whether you’d accept this or not – but ehm…the idea of being told these days to write something, to report something that you knew not to be true is simply – in this organisation – is unthinkable. I mean I’d say that without fear or favour, as it were.”

FF: “OK – well it wasn’t unthinkable then because that was my brief. My brief was simply…”

JH: “It was a long time ago.”

FF: “ brief was this is what is happening, why are you saying the opposite? You must be biased.”

JH: “Mmm…”

Quaint as it may be to see John Humphrys’ confidence in his claim that it is “unthinkable” that a BBC journalist would, over four decades on, be told “to write something…that you knew not to be true”, one has to conclude that he has not joined the dots between the BBC’s amplification of Nigerian propaganda in 1967 and its contemporary repetition of Hamas and Hizballah propaganda.

Humphrys also appears to prefer to avoid the fact that Broadcasting House “policy” from above clearly still shapes BBC reporting on a variety of topics. Its manifestation may, in the modern era, often be just as much about not writing something a reporter knows to be true, but it certainly still exists and it is facilitated by assorted style guides and editorial guidelines which, for instance, steer reporters towards coy avoidance of use of the word terrorism in certain parts of the world or continue to cause the BBC to embarrass itself with its ridiculous refusal to locate and recognise Israel’s capital city.