BBC exec: Don’t call Charlie Hebdo killers ‘terrorists’

Head of corporation’s Arabic channel says term is ‘loaded,’ comments in accordance with editorial guidelines

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Image of the BBC‘s coverage of the Paris terror attacks on January 7, 2015. (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Image of the BBC‘s coverage of the Paris terror attacks on January 7, 2015. (Photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

A senior BBC executive has said that the corporation avoids using the word “terrorist” to describe the Islamists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this month.

Tarik Kafala, the head of the BBC Arabic Service, told a British newspaper Sunday that the term was too “loaded” to describe the attack that killed 12 people at the Paris headquarters of the satirical magazine.

“We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist,” Kafala told the UK’s Independent. “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.”

“Terrorism is such a loaded word,” Kalafa said, noting that the UN has unsuccessfully tried to define the term for over a decade.

“We know what political violence is, we know what murder, bombings and shootings are and we describe them. That’s much more revealing, we believe, than using a word like terrorist which people will see as value-laden,” he continued.

Kafala’s nuanced approach is consistent with the BBC’s guidelines on terrorism reporting. Though the word is not banned, the UK-based media outlet asks that “careful thought” be given to its use, the paper noted.

“The value judgments frequently implicit in the use of the words ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorist group’ can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. It may be better to talk about an apparent act of terror or terrorism than label individuals or a group.”

The guidelines recommend that reporters use specific descriptions when describing perpetrators, such as “bomber,” “attacker,” “gunman,” or “militant.”

BBC Arabic broadcasts television, radio, online and a 24-hour news channel throughout the Middle East, reaching 36 million people weekly.

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