Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Call a terrorist a terrorist, BBC told

Ben Dowell, The Guardian
Tuesday May 2, 2006

The BBC should not be afraid to use the word 'terrorism' in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a independent report commissioned by the corporation said today.

The report, which was ordered by the BBC governors from a panel of five independent figures last October to assess the contentious issue, found there was no evidence of "systematic" bias within the corporation.

"We say that the BBC should get the language right. We think they should call terrorist acts 'terrorism' because that term is clear and well understood," the panel's chairman, Sir Quentin Thomas, the president of the British Board of Film Classification, writes in his introductory statement to the report.

The term "terrorism" is not well understood and is in fact very loaded. Members of the IRA were constantly called "terrorists" whilst they saw themselves as soldiers fighting a war against British occupation of Northern Ireland. In Britain the IRA is now widely seen as a "private army".

"Our assessment is that, apart from individual lapses, there was little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias. On the contrary, there was evidence of a commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial," Sir Quentin says.

"There is high quality reporting from location, some outstanding current affairs programmes and the website provides much valuable historical and other context. Management's commitment is clear and has led to several recent changes to strengthen performance.

"Nonetheless, there are identifiable shortcomings, particularly in respect of gaps in coverage, analysis, context and perspective and in the consistent maintenance of the BBC's own established editorial standards, including on matters of language.

"All of this points to the elusiveness of editorial planning, grip and oversight. In short, we found that BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading."

The report notes stronger evidence of pro-Israeli than pro-Palestinian coverage by the BBC, while concluding there was no overall, systematic bias one way or the other.

There were many more spokespeople available to comment on the Israeli side while there were fewer Palestinians, many of whom were not able or allowed to speak out, the independent panel noted. It added that the victims of Palestinian terrorism received more coverage because the images were often more striking.
The Glasgow University media group recently came to the same conclusion, despite the BBC's being compared to the "worst Nazi propaganda" by an Israeli official.

The report did note that a "significant number" of emails and letters sent to the review originated from the pro-Israeli lobby in the US and Israel.

"Pressure group activity could be seen in the number of identical letters or parts of letters," the report says. "A large number of pro-Israel supporters emailed from the United States, often with the same complaint, on the same date and/or from the same state."

BBC sources expressed surprise that the report accused the corporation of demonstrating bias towards Israel, contrary to the perception that the BBC is pro-Palestinian.

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At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Cosmic Duck said...

One man's terrorist is another man's "freedom fighter" it is said.

Of course you can use the word "terrorist" about a lot of physical assaults in Palestine, and the Middle East at large. But in the case of Palestine and Israel it ought not to be a one-way street. It should go both ways. Some of the raids the Israeli army has undertaken into the Palestine territory could easily be classified as a form of state terrorism.

The use of the word "terrorism" is a prerogative of state power/political power. Antagonists may be labeled "terrorists". In some cases it may be considered a justifiable definition, e.g. the 9/11 attacks on WTC. In some cases, however, what was a justifiable case of reacting to terrorism turned into state power that exerted its power by use of the term "terrorism". In that sense the terror lists published by the USA and the EU may in some instances go too far. The terror lists are a product of political decisions. In the case of the FARC Colombia rebels, there was some doubt in the French and Swedish delegations before a decision was made by the EU to categorize them as "terrorists". The two countries ended up bowing to the majority. The FARC have made som heinous acts of "terrorism",like abducting Ingrid Betancourt and throwing bombs that hit the "wrong" targets. But they have also done valuable work among poor peasantry in Colombia.

Hamas also has done a lot of valuable social work in Palestine. And they shied away from terrorist actions for the last couple of years. Who is a terrorist. I may turn you into a "terrorist" by the way I'm treating you. My fear of terrorism makes me consider you a terrorist. The crux of the matter is that we should stop regarding freedom fighters and social reformators as terrorist, - and reserve the word for the senseless violators of human dignity.

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Cosmic duck:

Here's how I summarised the whole argument, some time ago.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Show me a man [or woman] who won't fight to retain their human rights, and I'll show you a coward.


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