BBC rejects UK foreign secretary’s call to label Hamas a terrorist group

Spokesperson says ‘long-standing position’ on matter is clear, with broadcaster generally avoiding use of the word in global reporting unless attributed to others

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A logo of the BBC is seen at the BBC Headquarters in London, Britain, on July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
A logo of the BBC is seen at the BBC Headquarters in London, Britain, on July 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The BBC has rejected a call by UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron to identify Hamas as a terror group, saying it will stick with its existing policy of avoiding the terminology in its global reporting and only cite others’ use of it.

A BBC spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper on Monday, “No one consuming BBC News can be left unaware of the horrific nature of Hamas’s acts.”

“We’ve made our long-standing position on this matter very clear. We use the word ‘terrorist’ when it is attributed to others, such as the UK Government,” the spokesperson said.

BBC policy is to not label any group as terrorists unless quoting remarks by others, arguing it is a charged word, the use of which goes against the broadcaster’s effort at objective reporting.

But the broadcaster has faced increased criticism over its refusal to brand Hamas as terrorists in the wake of the Palestinian group’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel. Hamas led a massive cross-border assault on the country that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid numerous atrocities including gang rape, massacres of entire families and mutilation of victims. The 3,000 attackers who burst through the border also abducted 252 people of all ages — from the elderly to babies — who were taken as hostages to Gaza.

Britain has proscribed Hamas as a terror group.

On Sunday Cameron spoke with the BBC about Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza that was launched in response to the attack.

“Maybe it’s a moment actually for the BBC to ask itself again, should we describe these people as terrorists? They are terrorists,” Cameron said during the interview.

“If you kidnap grandmothers, if you kidnap babies, if you rape people, if you shoot children in front of their parents — what more do they need to do for the BBC to say ‘look, these are terrorists’? They really are,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron appearing on the BBC’s ‘Sunday Morning’ political television show with journalist Laura Kuenssberg, May 12, 2024. (JEFF OVERS / BBC / AFP)

The following day, during a discussion about the war, BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson asked the bureau’s Middle East editor: “Is there a sense that Benjamin Netanyahu is walking a political tightrope, proceeding with military action against what he says are the remaining targets of the group he calls terrorists, Hamas?”

Robinson’s phrasing drew condemnation from Conservative MP Michael Fabricant who, in a post to his X account, asked why the radio announcer put the question as he did when “Hamas IS a terrorist organization and is proscribed as such by the United Kingdom and EU?”

However, John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor, criticized Cameron, tweeting Monday: “What sort of democratic government ‘demands’ that a major broadcasting organization toes its political line?”

Days after the attack, Simpson defended the BBC’s position, writing in an opinion piece, “Terrorism is a loaded word, which people use about an outfit they disapprove of morally. It’s simply not the BBC’s job to tell people who to support and who to condemn — who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.”

“Our business is to present our audiences with the facts, and let them make up their own minds,” he wrote on October 11.

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