Friday, January 30, 2015

The BBC is Not Charlie

We're often told that only a small percentage of Muslims are "extremists", and only a subset of those are terrorists or endorse terrorism, etc. But apparently the BBC wants to shrink that to zero.

In an interview with the British Newspaper The Independent, the head of BBC Arabic"the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services", according to The Independent (the largest?)—stated that the policy of the news service is to avoid initiating the use of the word "terrorist”.
The Islamists who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris should be not be (sic) described as “terrorists” by the BBC, a senior executive at the corporation has said. 
Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services, said the term “terrorist” was too “loaded” to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine. 
Mr Kafala, whose BBC Arabic television, radio and online news services reach a weekly audience of 36 million people, told The Independent: “We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.”
So, to be fair and clear, according to the BBC they can quote someone if they use the word, or say that so and so was brought up on “terrorism charges” (if those were the words of the authorities), but otherwise they should avoid the term.

Now, also to be fair, this is not completely unreasonable given that “terrorism” can be a politically loaded term. But on the contrary side, other terms that the BBC would elsewhere state are okay to use, can also be loaded—“massacre” or even “murder”, for example. The idea of absolutely neutral reporter-speak is a non-starter.

Unless you’re reporting about Muslim terrorism.

But there are some other odd things about the statement to note:

“…we know what that means and what it is.” We do? Who is the “we” here? Palestinians, who either thought of the Charlie attacks as a “military operation” or a Mossad frame up? And if we know what it is, why not say it? Unless we don’t know, in which case, why does the head of BBC Arabic say we do?

And there’s also some inconsistency with current and relatively recent BBC reporting. Again to be fair, this inconsistency doesn’t obviously fall into neat non-Muslim (terror) versus Muslim (non-terror) lines. (Sorry, Islamophobes like me.) But it is inconsistent. For example, here is a relatively recent (2012) BBC Sport story about the 1972 Olympics attack:
At the Munich 1972 Olympics, Palestinian terrorists calling themselves Black September attacked members of the Israeli Olympic team.
Perhaps Sports coverage is exempt from the policy. Or maybe the PLO of almost fifty years ago was not sufficiently Muslim. (In truth, those evil and bloodthirsty terrorists of another generation seem positively secular compared to what we have now.)

But then there is this from a 2014 BBC story:
There are some things you just don't do. Making bomb threats in an airport is one. Terrorism messages directed at airlines on Twitter is another.
This was a story about a 14-year old girl who made a bomb threat as a joke.

So, pretend terrorism is terrorism but real terrorism is…well, we know what it is. So what’s the big deal if we don’t say it?

There's also this headline from the BBC, two weeks ago:
Charlie Hebdo Attack: Three Days of Terror.
Thus, there was "terror" but the people responsible for it were not "terrorists". Being really really scared is subjective after all.

As is being shot in the throat. That's an involuntary bullet impact.

Let’s be honest. The focus is on self-censoring our language when describing current Muslim terrorism. And since there’s so damn much of it (Muslim terrorism), the “policy” naturally comes into play a lot.

This isn’t neutrality. It’s appeasement.

Many people I know still cite the BBC as a trusted “unbiased” news source. Since the New York Times is close to going out of business, who else are they going to look to? You get the impression they’re listening to it under the covers with their shortwaves while the rest of us unwashed are watching Fox. What snobs.

Then again, there is still something about those accents…

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