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CBC: Don’t Judge the Terrorists!


The CBC joins the BBC and Reuters in their crusade to erase the stigma from acts of terrorism:

What follows is a memo distributed to CBC staff describing the CBC policy on use of the word ‘terrorism.’

’Terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’: Exercise extreme caution before using either word.

Avoid labelling any specific bombing or other assault as a “terrorist act” unless it’s attributed (in a TV or Radio clip, or in a direct quote on the Web). For instance, we should refer to the deadly blast at that nightclub in Bali in October 2002 as an “attack,” not as a “terrorist attack.” The same applies to the Madrid train attacks in March 2004, the London bombings in July 2005 and the attacks against the United States in 2001, which the CBC prefers to call “the Sept. 11 attacks” or some similar expression. (The BBC, Reuters and many others follow similar policies.)

Terrorism generally implies attacks against unarmed civilians for political, religious or some other ideological reason. But it’s a highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.

Controversial? To whom? The terrorists?

By restricting ourselves to neutral language, we aren’t faced with the problem of calling one incident a “terrorist act” (e.g., the destruction of the World Trade Center) while classifying another as, say, a mere “bombing” (e.g., the destruction of a crowded shopping mall in the Middle East).
That’s all well and good, except that terrorism is a handily defined English word. If the crowded shopping mall in the Middle East was destroyed by a person or an organized group (i.e. not a government actor) with the intention of intimidating or coercing a society or government for ideological or political reasons, than it meets the definition of terrorism.

They do speak English in some parts of Canada, right?

Use specific descriptions. Instead of reaching for a label (“terrorist” or “terrorism”) when news breaks, try describing what happened.

For example, “A suicide bomber blew up a bus full of unarmed civilians early Monday, killing at least two dozen people.” The details of these tragedies give our audience the information they need to form their own conclusions about what type of attack it was.

Footnote: It’s come to the CBC’s attention that it is highly controversial in some parts of the world to label this kind of thing a “tragedy.” Henceforth, CBC will use the less controversial word “operation.”

Actually, “operation” could be construed as controversial by someone… Hmm. What’s something that everyone likes? Aha! Ice cream! “A suicide bomber blew up a bunch of kids today, in what can only be described as an unexpected ice cream.”

Rather than calling assailants “terrorists,” we can refer to them as bombers, hijackers, gunmen (if we’re sure no women were in the group), militants, extremists, attackers or some other appropriate noun.
Militants, extremists… kind of controversial, don’t you think? How about activists, protestors, gentlemen (if we’re sure no women were in the group), the aggrieved, the glorious heavenbound, or some other appropriate noun?

The guiding principle should be that we don’t judge specific acts as “terrorism” or people as “terrorists.” Such labels must be attributed.

As CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman has pointed out: “Our preference is to describe the act or individual, and let the viewer or listener or political representatives make their own judgment.”

I’ll apply the same standard to the CBC: I would describe this as an act of PC language perversion, handed down by an individual who seems to have recused himself and his news organization from making even the most basic judgments about right and wrong. I’ll let you make your own judgment (via LGF).


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