BBC again ignores its own editorial guidelines in London terror reports

BBC reporting on the fatal stabbing attack in London on the afternoon of November 29th once again highlighted the corporation’s double standards on terrorism.

The BBC’s current editorial guidelines on ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ (which came into effect in mid-July 2019) state: [emphasis added]

“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 should not use the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.

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.”

As has been the case when terror attacks have taken place in the UK in the past, those guidelines were appropriately disregarded in some of the corporation’s reporting on the November 29th incident. For example:









As regular readers know, the BBC has reported countless fatal attacks against Israelis using knives or other methods without using the words terror, terrorism or terrorist.

In April of this year BBC News’ editorial director stated:

“On the issue of terror and terrorism our guidance is clear. There is no definition of what is a terrorist attack and who is a terrorist. If we use the word we want to attribute it…”

 “There is no agreed definition of what a terrorist is. It is disputed.”

“We want to be consistent.”

The BBC is however anything but consistent in the language used in its reporting on terrorism in different locations. While the corporation does use the word terror in reports on attacks in Western Europe or attacks against British tourists, it time and time again fails to employ the same terminology in its reporting on attacks against Israelis.

As we have noted here in the past, that double standard is evidence of precisely the type of “value judgements” which the BBC claims that its above editorial guideline is designed to prevent.

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BBC Technology correspondent visits the ‘start-up nation’

It is an all too rare pleasure to be able to note here BBC reporting on Israel which is accurate, impartial, informative and objective. As we have observed here in the past, reports which do tick those boxes often come from BBC news departments dedicated to specific subjects such as science or technology, where the political stance of journalists is less relevant to the subject matter.

BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones recently paid a visit to Israel and his February 10th report titled “Next Silicon Valleys: What makes Israel a start-up nation?” currently appears on the Technology and Middle East pages of the BBC News website. The written report also includes filmed items shown on BBC television news.

Cellan Jones technology art

The only inaccuracy requiring correction in Cellan-Jones’ report is the description of Herzliya as a suburb of Tel Aviv: despite its geographical proximity to Tel Aviv, it is in fact a separate city with its own municipality.

The appearance of reports such as this one highlights all the more the sharp contrast between the BBC’s ability to produce good journalism on subject matter not related to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the regrettable way in which political standpoints frequently trump standards of journalism when the subject matter does relate to such issues. 

Another case of bizarre BBC use of term ‘pro-Palestinian’

Broadly speaking, BBC coverage of Israel-related issues which do not concern politics or the Arab-Israeli conflict is usually informative and objective. One sector which stands out for its generally accurate and impartial coverage is the BBC News Technology department.

Several reports from that department have recently appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website including an interesting set of diary reports by Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones recording his impressions of a visit to Israel – see herehere and here.

Another report, dated January 27th, is titled “Israel defence computers hit by hack attack” and, like similar articles appearing at other outlets, appears to be largely based on a Reuters report on the same subject. The BBC’s version, however, has one notable addition.

Pro Palestinian hackers

“The attack left hackers temporarily in control of 15 computers that are part of Israel’s defence forces.

Pro-Palestinian hackers are believed to be behind the attack.” [emphasis added]

The BBC article also states:

“Mr Raff pointed the finger at Palestinian involvement because of the attack’s similarity to another incident that took place in 2012. That too involved booby-trapped messages sent to Israeli government staff.

The email messages sent in both attacks were written and formatted in a very similar style, said Mr Raff, adding that they also shared some technical commonalities.”

From other sources we learn that:

“Raff told Reuters that Palestinians were suspected to be behind the cyber attack, citing similarities to a cyber assault on Israeli computers waged more than a year ago from a server in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

While the latest attack was conducted from a server in the United States, experts noticed writing and composition similarities with the earlier attack, he said.”

As the BBC article correctly points out:

“One of the computers successfully penetrated using the booby-trapped email was at Israel’s Civil Administration agency, said Mr Raff. This defence agency issues entry permits for Palestinians who work in Israel and oversees the passage of goods between the country and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

It is not made clear in this article why the BBC chooses to define as “pro-Palestinian” those hackers perpetrating a cyber attack on a body which organises and facilitates the daily entry of supplies and aid into the Gaza Strip, the exit of locally produced exports and persons seeking medical care from that territory and the issuing of work permits to ordinary people from Palestinian Authority controlled areas seeking higher paid employment in Israel. If anything, any attempt to disrupt activities which contribute to improving the health, welfare and financial situation of ordinary Palestinians should surely be defined as anti-Palestinian. 

This is the third time in ten days that the BBC has made dubious use of the term “pro-Palestinian”. Apparently editors have not yet got round to having a serious think about what the term actually means or when its use is – and is not – appropriate.

Related Articles:

 How does the BBC define ‘pro-Palestinian’?