Are BBC guidelines on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ about to get worse?

Citing “well-placed BBC sources”, the Daily Mail recently reported that the BBC intends to place “an effective ban on journalists using the word ‘terror’”.

“Reporters will be told to avoid using the word to describe any terror attack, unless they are quoting someone else.

Instead, they will refer to terror attacks by naming specific details, such as the location and the method of slaughter used.”

The article went on:

“But yesterday, MPs and experts accused the broadcaster of ‘failing in its public service duty’.

David Green, a former Home Office adviser and chief executive of the think tank Civitas, said: ‘If they don’t want to use that [the word terror] then they’re failing in their public service duty which is to be clear and accurate. […]

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: ‘They are terrorists and these are terror attacks. The BBC should not try to sanitise the behaviour of terrorists by not calling it out.’”

Readers were also told that:

“Many BBC reporters are angered by the decision, which will come into force when the BBC’s new editorial guidelines are published this month. 

A source said: ‘The end result is a desire to squeeze the word terror out altogether, which many people think is nuts.’”

The Daily Mail noted that:

“According to well-placed BBC sources, bosses are eager to report terror attacks consistently, regardless of the terrorists’ political ideology. But instead of branding them all as terror attacks and risk accusations of bias, it wants to avoid the word altogether.

A senior news source said: ‘It boils down to that phrase, ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’.”

And:

“A BBC spokesman said: ‘People should wait to read the editorial guidelines.’”

Last autumn the BBC announced a public consultation on those proposed new editorial guidelines. The section of the new guidelines concerning ‘War,Terror and Emergencies’ – ‘use of language’ includes the following:

Section 11.3.5:

“Our reporting of possible acts of terror should be timely and responsible, bearing in mind our requirement for due accuracy and impartiality. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements. We try to avoid the use of the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution. When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.”

Section 11.3.6:

“The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as ‘bomber’, ‘attacker’, ‘gunman’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘insurgent’ and ‘militant’. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

That approach is of course already evident in the existing BBC editorial guidelines – ironically titled “Terrorism: Language when Reporting Terrorism” – as BBC Watch pointed out in our submission to that consultation:

“This does not differ from existing editorial guidelines which have repeatedly been shown to be redundant. The BBC regularly does use the words terror, terrorist and terrorism when reporting on incidents in specific geographic areas – particularly Europe and the UK – or when British nationals are among the victims and indeed it would be ridiculous not to do so.

However, the BBC never uses the words terror, terrorism or terrorist (except in direct quotes from Israeli officials) when reporting similar attacks perpetrated against Israelis.

The responses received from the BBC when that issue has been raised by members of the public have been highly unsatisfactory.

Moreover, the BBC has used the term terrorist when reporting attacks by Jews on Palestinians.

These double standards are highly offensive and their roots are clearly to be found in political judgments of the kind the editorial guideline professes to seek to avoid. At present the BBC’s approach to the topic of terrorism does not distinguish between method and aims, means and ends. The result of that is that when a perceived cause is considered acceptable and justifiable, the description of the act is adjusted accordingly.

It is obviously futile to reuse the same editorial guidelines which BBC journalists have been openly – and rightly – breaching for years in reports on terrorism in Europe and the UK. The issue of continuity in reporting acts of terror wherever they occur is clearly a major point which this draft guideline does not adequately address.”

If the Daily Mail’s report is accurate, however, it would appear that rather than addressing the core issue of that ‘one man’s terrorist’ myth – i.e. distinguishing between means and aims – the BBC is about to damage its reputation for accuracy and impartiality even further by expanding the policy it already uses when reporting Palestinian attacks against Israelis to include other locations too. 

Related Articles:

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

BBC News website does ‘one man’s terrorist’

 

 

 

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Weekend long read

1) A reminder that those wishing to make a submission to the BBC’s public consultation concerning its editorial guidelines have until November 12th to do so.

Background reading concerning the consultation – including details of where to send a submission – can be found here.

The BBC’s proposed draft of the revised guidelines can be found here. Of particular interest is Section 11 – commencing on page 122 – titled ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’. As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s record of adhering to its existing guidance on ‘Language When Reporting Terrorism’ is inconsistent.

The existing editorial guidelines (published in 2010) can be found here.

2) The ITIC reports on Hizballah’s designation as a transnational criminal group by the US.

“In October 2018, the US administration adopted a series of legislative and law enforcement measures against Hezbollah and all those supporting it. These measures have met with broad bipartisan support in Congress and have been approved by President Trump. These measures provide law enforcement agencies with an improved “toolkit” in the struggle against Hezbollah and the international crime in which it is involved. […]

Aside from Hezbollah, four other international drug and criminal cartels based in Latin America were included in the list. In order to manage the struggle against these leading groups, a special task force headed by the Deputy Attorney General was set up, with the participation of prosecutors and experts with experience in the war against drugs, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering.”

3) General Michael Hostage and Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Corn take a look at “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges“.

“Hezbollah today is highly competent, adaptable and lethal. Its forces have gained invaluable battlefield experience in Syria and amassed more weaponry than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, including at least 120,000 rockets and missiles. This is more than all of Europe’s NATO members combined, and ten times as many as when it last went to war with Israel in 2006. […]

Despite this quantum leap in its capabilities, Hezbollah is under no illusion about its ability to inflict military defeat on Israel. It will not seek victory in the valleys of Lebanon or the skies over Israel, but in the court of public opinion.”

4) The FDD reports on a recent ISIS attack in Libya which did not receive any BBC English language coverage.

“Islamic State (IS) militants on October 28 launched a surprise attack on al-Fuqaha, a small town in central Libya, killing at least four people, including the mayor’s son and two police officers, and kidnapping 10 others. Both the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the U.S. Embassy strongly condemned the deadly attack and called for the immediate release of those kidnapped. The attack is the second major terrorist incident in two months, reflecting IS’s commitment to the guerrilla warfare strategy it has adopted in Libya after the loss of its coastal stronghold of Sirte in December 2016.”

Have your say: a public consultation on the BBC Editorial Guidelines

The BBC has launched a public consultation on the topic of its Editorial Guidelines.

“The BBC has opened a consultation on a revised draft of the Editorial Guidelines which set the content standards for the BBC’s programme makers and other content producers for BBC services.

The Guidelines cover impartiality, accuracy, fairness, privacy and harm and offence, and further sections deal with a range of topics such as religious programming, war, terror, conflicts of interest, competitions, votes, relationships with other organisations and commercial references.

The Guidelines evolve over time to take account of changes in BBC regulation as set out in the BBC’s Royal Charter and Agreement; changes in legislation, developments in editorial thinking and lessons learnt from editorial rulings as well as reflecting changes in public attitudes and technology. The BBC therefore periodically reviews the Guidelines to ensure they keep pace with both our legal requirements and with changing audience expectations.

Under the current Charter, the BBC Board is responsible for the Editorial Guidelines. The Agreement states that the BBC must: “set, publish, review periodically, and observe guidelines designed to secure appropriate standards in the context of the UK Public Services”. This is the first revision of the Editorial Guidelines under this new governance system.”

Background reading concerning the consultation – including details of where to send a submission – can be found here.

The BBC’s proposed draft of the revised guidelines can be found here. Of particular interest is Section 11 – commencing on page 122 – titled ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’. As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s record of adhering to its existing guidance on ‘Language When Reporting Terrorism’ is inconsistent.

The existing editorial guidelines (published in 2010) can be found here.

Submissions must be made by November 12th 2018.

 

 

 

 

Have your say on the BBC complaints system

Earlier this year we noted the apparent intention of the new BBC Board to hold a public consultation concerning the corporation’s complaints system.

That public consultation is now underway and members of the public can make submissions until August 16th.

“The BBC aims to resolve complaints fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by the Charter to have a complaints framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems.

Since April the BBC has operated with an interim Complaints Framework, published on the BBC’s complaints website. The Framework reflects the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

The Framework sets out the BBC’s approach and the procedures for handling different types of complaints, from editorial to regulatory, so that everyone who wants to make a complaint – whether as an individual or on behalf of an organisation – knows what to expect.

As the Charter requires the BBC to publicly consult on the Framework before it is finalised, we have opened a consultation which will run until mid-August.”

The interim Complaints Framework is available here.

Guidance for those wishing to make a submission is available here and includes the following:

“Specifically we are seeking views on whether they [the draft framework and procedures]:

  • Seem readily available, easy to understand and accessible.
  • Make clear and give sufficient information to those who complain what they can expect from the BBC and how to appeal, including whether they are clear on timeframes.
  • Make clear the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom and the circumstances under which complaints can be referred to Ofcom (or to other relevant bodies) by complainants.
  • Seem fair to those who might wish to make a complaint.
  • Seem proportionate, balancing the cost to licence fee payers of handling complaints with the need to give people who complain a proper hearing.”

Those wishing to make a submission should send it by email to:

bbc.complaintsframework2017@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

BBC Corporate Affairs, Room 5045, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

Related Articles:

BBC to review its complaints system again

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes 

The BBC’s reporting of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios

h/t D

On August 10th the BBC Trust published the findings of a review of the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of statistics in its news and current affairs output which was commissioned in 2015. The report, together with accompanying documents, is accessible here.BBC Trust

Titled “Making Sense of Statistics”, the report makes interesting reading, although it has a somewhat domestic focus. While it does not address the issue of the BBC’s presentation of casualty figures during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, some of its observations, conclusions and recommendations are pertinent to the corporation’s portrayal of that topic both at the time and since.

On page 17, the report addresses the topic of audience expectations.

“Audiences expect that numbers are accurate, factual and verified, that claims that are wrong or misleading are challenged, and that a range of evidence is used to put statistical claims into context. In other words, the BBC has to ensure that the public is informed accurately and impartially on the important issues of the day by helping audiences navigate through the statistical evidence and make sense of the numbers.

Regarding accuracy, there is a presumption of veracity – if a story contains a number, it must be true. Certainly, the audience research found that “adding statistics does increase the impression of accuracy”:

There is an assumption by the audience that figures quoted by the BBC will be accurate, factual and well verified and that the BBC sets out to be impartial in its use of statistics. Audience research report, Oxygen Brand Consulting”

As regular readers know, the BBC did not independently verify the casualty figures and civilian/combatant casualty ratios which it presented to its audiences during the 2014 conflict. Although there is no publicly available evidence of its having carried out any such verification since the conflict ended, it continues to quote and promote unverified data sourced from interested parties and has even defended its own use of statistics provided by a terrorist organisation.

Ironically, on page 30 of the report, readers find the following:

“We heard examples of the BBC choosing not to cover particular statistics which have either been sent to them in press releases or featured in other media coverage, due to concerns with the methodology behind them or the interpretations placed on them.”

Page 68 of the report states:

“In order to evaluate the importance or validity of a statistic, audiences often need to some extent to understand where it came from, who is using it and how it has been generated – in other words, the provenance of a statistic needs to be transparent. Good practice suggests that in order to achieve this, those descriptors should be routinely presented, although not necessarily as a full suite on every occasion. In some cases of course – such as a fleeting reference in an interview – it is not possible to give all this information. But where the story is the statistic, then transparency is vital for the audience as attribution can sometimes greatly affect the weight audiences give to particular figures. And yet, there appear to be occasions where statistics in BBC content are not clearly attributed, or where a link to the direct source (if in an online article) is not provided.”

Appendix 2 at the end of the report presents a hand-out provided at the end of BBC training sessions. The “10 Golden Rules” include:

“Taking a theory and trying to find statistics that fit it is a recipe for disaster, and one of the biggest causes of inaccuracy and misrepresentation. Make sure that whoever has provided the figures hasn’t fallen into that trap.”

“Check your source. Is it likely to be someone with a vested interest in interpreting findings in a particular way?”

Clearly those ‘golden rules’ were not followed when the BBC unquestioningly promoted data provided, via a third-party, by political NGOs engaged in lawfare against Israel.stats

On the one occasion that the BBC did provide its audiences with some good statistical analysis of the topic of casualty figures in August 2014, that article was subsequently altered and reframed to the point of being rendered meaningless.

On page 49 the report states:

“Providing context aids interpretation. But it is not always enough. It is important that, as well as communicating the statistics, journalists are also able to provide interpretations around the sometimes-complex subjects in which they appear […] in order to help audiences to understand the relevance of the figures. And these interpretations need to be based on a balanced assessment of the evidence in order to provide audiences with an impartial reading.”

Readers may recall that shortly after the 2014 conflict came to a close, the BBC News website published an article titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” about which we remarked:

“But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.”

On page 71 of the report an issue which will be familiar to many readers is discussed:

“And yet, we received evidence that there remains concern in some quarters over the speed in which the BBC issues corrections when it gets the numbers wrong and the transparency with which they inform audiences that changes have been made (for example to online articles).”

One can only hope that this review will prompt the BBC to take the subject of verification of data originating from political NGOs and terrorist groups much more seriously than it has done in the past and that the focus will from now on be placed on meeting audience expectations of provision of accurate, verified and impartial data rather than the promotion of deliberately politicised statistics.

Related Articles:

Vital statistics: stealth changes made to the BBC’s Gaza casualty figures article

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

Reminder: DCMS consultation on BBC charter review deadline approaches

In July the Department for Culture Media and Sport launched a public consultation on the subject of the upcoming BBC charter review.DCMS consultation

“Reviewing the BBC’s Royal Charter is not just a case of publishing a consultation. We want to engage with the public and with industry to make sure that all views are given proper consideration. This is why we are engaging with people across the UK in a number of ways to make it easy for everyone to respond.”

The final date for submissions to that consultation is Thursday, October 8th. Anyone who wishes to take part but has not yet done so can find details here.

A reminder concerning the BBC Trust consultation ahead of charter review

As readers may recall, in July the BBC Trust launched a public consultation.BBC Trust  

 “At the BBC Trust, our role is to represent licence fee payers, and we want to ensure that your views are taken into account by the Government as it considers what the BBC of the future should look like. This is an opportunity for you to join the debate and to help shape the BBC.”  

The closing date for that consultation is September 18th and anyone who wishes to take part but has not yet done so can find details here.  

 

 

 

 

BBC Trust consultation on local radio and news in England

The BBC Trust is currently running a public consultation on the topic of BBC local radio and local news and current affairs in England.

“The purpose of this consultation is to review BBC Local Radio and BBC local and news and current affairs in England. It covers: BBC Local Radio in England; BBC regional news and current affairs in England on TV; and BBC local news online.”

However, this particular review does not include:

“The BBC’s national news and current affairs output, i.e. news made available to, or targeted at, UK wide audiences. This was considered in our review of Network News and Current Affairs published in April 2014

BBC news and current affairs output made for and broadcast in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This will be considered in a separate review, due to start later this year

Editorial standards and impartiality. Service reviews do not consider editorial standards or give an assessment of accuracy and impartiality. However, as high editorial standards are a key component of high-quality speech and news services, we will consider any issues around compliance with editorial standards through this review.”

The consultation runs until September 28th 2015 and the online survey, together with more details, can be found here.

On a related note, readers may be interested to know that despite the BBC Trust having partially upheld a complaint concerning the wording used in articles about comments made by the former MP David Ward over two years ago and an amendment having subsequently been made to an article appearing on the UK Politics page of the BBC News website, another article on the same subject still available in the ‘Leeds & West Yorkshire’ local news section of the website continues to exhibit the same inaccurate language which was the subject of the complaint upheld by the BBC Trust. Clearly then the issues of communication and continuity might be among those raised in this consultation. 

screenshot taken 2/9/15

screenshot taken 2/9/15

Related Articles:

BBC lends its shoulder to Amnesty’s cart of politically motivated defamation – part one

Dumbest interview question ever on BBC Radio Leeds

BBC still airbrushing David Ward’s remarks

 

 

BBC Trust launches public consultation ahead of charter review

Following the launch last week of the DCMS public consultation on the subject of the BBC charter review, the BBC Trust has initiated a similar process of its own.BBC Trust

“At the BBC Trust, our role is to represent licence fee payers, and we want to ensure that your views are taken into account by the Government as it considers what the BBC of the future should look like.  This is an opportunity for you to join the debate and to help shape the BBC.”  

Readers can find details of the consultation here and can contribute until September 18th 2015.

DCMS launches consultation on BBC charter review

On July 16th the Department for Culture Media and Sport launched a public consultation on the subject of the BBC charter review which will last until October 8th 2015.DCMS consultation

The DCMS’ background document on the consultation can be found here.

“Reviewing the BBC’s Royal Charter is not just a case of publishing a consultation. We want to engage with the public and with industry to make sure that all views are given proper consideration. This is why we are engaging with people across the UK in a number of ways to make it easy for everyone to respond.”

Contact details for UK readers wishing to contribute to the public consultation appear on page eight and the nineteen questions which are the subject of the consultation can be found on page 11.