1. Stalin himself could hardly have done a better rewrite job
2. The BBC denies…
3. …But now confirms policy
4. …Opt for “less loaded terms”
5. “BBC warns staff over ‘terrorism’” (Guardian, December 16, 2005)
6. “The BBC discovers ‘terrorism,’ briefly” (Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2005)
But not for long. The following day the BBC subtly and retroactively started to alter the text of stories on its website in order to remove the word “terrorist” to describe those behind the London bombings. Stalin himself, I said, could hardly have done a better rewrite job.
THE BBC DENIES…
But then the BBC director general, Mark Thompson dismissed the claims that the BBC told staff to try and avoid the use of the word “terrorist” in its news coverage having initially allowed it. He told a House of Lords committee hearing on the BBC’s future that neither he nor BBC news director Helen Boaden had issued a memo to that effect to journalists hours after the July 7 attacks. He didn’t comment on the retroactive alteration of stories on the BBC’s website.
…BUT NOW CONFIRMS POLICY
However, now we have confirmation that the BBC is indeed trying to avoid the term “terrorist” – as a matter of policy – and we all know that this will apply particularly when Israelis are victims.
…OPT FOR “LESS LOADED TERMS”
The media section of the Guardian newspaper (which is a subscriber only part of the Guardian’s website, so many people may not have seen this) reveals that the BBC has issued fresh guidance to staff telling them to “take care” when using the term “terrorist,” and to opt instead for “less loaded terms.”
The new guidance, which was issued only internally on the BBC’s in house email system, having been first approved by the BBC’s board of governors, tells journalists: “The guidelines do not ban the use of the word ‘terrorist’. However… there are a number of important editorial factors that must be considered before its use to describe individuals or a given group that can be justified… we must be careful not to give the impression that we have come to some kind of implicit – and unwarranted – value judgment... If you do decide to use the word ‘terrorist’ do so sparingly, having considered what is said above, and take advice from senior editors.”
The BBC is the biggest newsgathering television and radio network in the world. It is funded by British taxpayers, even though many (including the British prime minister, Tony Blair) have been strongly critical of its political bias.
I attach below the article from the Guardian followed by my article “The BBC discovers ‘terrorism,’ briefly.” You may also wish to read a more detailed piece Living in a Bubble: The BBC’s very own Mideast foreign policy.
-- Tom Gross
The BBC discovers “terrorism,” briefly
Suicide bombing seems different when closer to home
By Tom Gross
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion Page)
July 12, 2005
When it happens on your own doorstep, in very familiar settings like the London “Tube” or on a traditional red double-decker bus, right alongside the site of a building where Charles Dickens once lived, terrorism seems very different than it does when innocent people are murdered elsewhere.
Britain’s first bus bombing took place barely half a mile from the BBC’s central London headquarters, and for a day or so after last Thursday’s multiple bomb attacks, the BBC, the influential leftist daily the Guardian, and even the British-based global news agency Reuters, all seemed to suddenly discover the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” In Saturday’s Guardian, for example, one or other of these words appeared on each of the first eleven pages.
In marked contrast to BBC reports about bombs on public transport in Israel – bombs which in some cases were even worse than those in London, since some were specifically aimed at children, and most were packed with nails, screws, glass and specially-sharpened metal shards in order to maximize injuries – terms like “guerrilla,” “militant,” “activist” or “fighter” were suddenly nowhere to be seen.
Nor – again in contrast to their coverage of Israel – did BBC correspondents, on either their domestic or international services, provide sympathetic accounts of the likely perpetrators, or explain to viewers that we must “understand” their “grievances”. Instead they did what an objective news organization should do: just report on the attacks, and their atrocious nature, and on the sufferings of the victims.
“A BARRIER TO UNDERSTANDING”
The world’s premier broadcast network appeared to throw away its own ridiculous “BBC Producer’s Guidelines”. BBC online reports, for example, had headlines such as “Terror of passengers stuck on tube” and “London Rocked by Terror Attacks.”
BBC executives had previously insisted that for the sake of what they call “even-handedness” terrorists should not be called terrorists. Their Guidelines state: “The word ‘terrorist’ itself can be a barrier to understanding... We should try to avoid the term, while we report the facts as we know them.”
But the hope of many of the British taxpayers forced to fund the BBC that it had finally come to its senses and would henceforth call terror by its proper name, turned out to be short-lived. By Friday, the BBC’s world service was slowly reverting to its old habits, both on air and on line. (Its domestic news broadcasts have for the time being continued using the word “terrorist.”)
Presumably hoping that no one would notice, the BBC subtly and retroactively altered its initial texts about the bombs on both it British and international websites. Unfortunately for the BBC, however, previous versions of its webpages remained easily accessible to all on Google, and enterprising British bloggers, long-fed up with the BBC’s bias, recorded the changes.
“Harry’s Place” noted, for example, that on Thursday evening a BBC News webpage headlined “Bus man may have seen terrorist,” began “A bus passenger says he may have seen one of those responsible for the terrorist bomb attacks in London. Richard Jones, from Binfield, had got a bus just before it was blown up...”
But on Friday at 10.14 am GMT, that webpage was suddenly changed. The headline now reads “Passenger believes he saw bomber”, and the text begins “A bus passenger says he may have seen one of those responsible for the bomb attacks in London. Richard Jones, from Binfield, had got a bus just before it was blown up...”
Early on Friday morning another BBC webpage, headlined “Testing the underground mood,” spoke of “the worst terrorist atrocity Britain has seen.” But at 12.08 GMT, while the rest of the article was left untouched, those words were replaced by “the worst peacetime bomb attacks Britain has seen.”
There are other examples of similar censorship occurring at the BBC. Stalin himself could hardly have done a better job of overseeing its award-winning website.
“LET’S BLAME THE JEWS”
In its round-up of world reactions, BBC online was also quick to highlight the views of conspiracy theorists. The very first article listed by the BBC started by quoting Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani saying Israel was behind the London attacks, followed by a commentary on Iranian state radio explicitly blaming the Mossad.
With its unprecedented worldwide news reach (its radio service alone, broadcasting in 43 languages, attracts over 150 million listeners), BBC coverage is important in formulating worldwide public opinion.
But even more influential – and in respect to the London terror attacks, far more irresponsible – was the Associated Press (AP).
The AP played into the hands of anti-Semites by irresponsibly running a bogus “Israel advance warning” story on its international newswire shortly after the London attacks. Although the story has since been retracted by the AP, the damage has been done. As was the case after 9/11, a thousand “Israel knew”-style conspiracy theories have already been spawned on extreme rightist and leftist websites worldwide.
The AP story headlined “Netanyahu Changed Plans Due to Warning,” written by Amy Teibel of the AP Jerusalem bureau, and alleging that Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in London for an economic conference, was tipped off “minutes before Thursday’s explosions,” was put out by the AP on their worldwide news wires at 11.14 am GMT (7.14 am EST) on Thursday.
Fox News ran the AP story on air at 7:50 am New York time. AP’s story also appeared on the websites of over 100 credible news outlets in the US, Canada, Ireland, India and elsewhere. More disturbingly it appeared on Al Jazeera and other Middle East media.
How could any serious editor or reporter not see that this was “black propaganda” and a replay of the post-9/11 libels? And how could the AP Jerusalem Bureau Chief not have checked before running it?
But despite the various shortcomings in the coverage of the London bombs, there was also much resolute and sensible commentary, not just from the right and center but from some on the left too.
While the usual suspects, such as the notorious Robert Fisk of the Independent (who was singled out as a journalist one could admire in Osama bin Laden’s video message last October), immediately blamed Tony Blair and George Bush for bringing the bombs upon London, most commentators saw the atrocities for what they were.
“Face up to the truth,” wrote Nick Cohen, a leading columnist for The Observer, the Sunday sister paper of The Guardian. Addressing what he called “my world of liberal London,” Cohen said “We all know who was to blame for Thursday’s murders... and it wasn’t Bush and Blair.