Some sections of the more right-wing British press are trying to make an issue out of the BBC’s decision to use the word ‘bomber’ in place of the word ‘terrorist’ when referring to the people who blew up three Tube trains and a bus in London last Thursday.
The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of this ‘issue’ is more restrained than most but still manages to quote Rod Liddle’s accusation that the BBC is guilty of political correctness in its reporting of British Muslims. I find this quite strange in view of Liddle being, or claiming to be, a friend of Abu Hamza, a preacher much reviled in the right-wing press as some sort of bogey man1.
The BBC is, in my humble and probably completely worthless opinion, altogether correct in its decision. The word ‘bomber’ is entirely accurate (if you set off bombs then you’re a bomber) while ‘terrorist’ is an emotive term whose application to any particular person or group depends on your point of view2. To some Israelis, for example, Yasser Arafat continued to be a ‘terrorist’ even after he’d clearly settled into statesman mode sometime in the 1970s.
The BBC has an international reach and needs to be seen to be reporting accurately without using terms which might alienate some of its intended audience regardless of how monstrous the views of those people might be.
1 Having heard Abu Hamza preach on more than one occasion outside the Finsbury Park mosque I must say that although I found some of his views repulsive he reminded me rather a lot of Ian Paisley in his younger days but with the saving grace of a self-deprecating sense of humour.
2 For what it’s worth I consider the London bombings to be acts of terrorism and hence see the perpetrators as terrorists. I also see them as human beings whose actions leave me troubled, perplexed and not a little frightened.
Posted 14 July 2005, 23:38 BST