Wednesday, September 15, 2004

More on "They're Terrorists – Not Activists"

This from Daniel Pipes

I published an article by the above title today, criticizing major media outlets for their avoiding the term terrorist in favor of some twenty synonyms. The article has prompted new information from readers.

A CNN viewer notes a marked spike in use of the word terrorist by the station newsreaders and reporters on Sept. 4, one day after the atrocity at Beslan, with 6 usages in just over a half-hour period. The viewer characterizes the T-word being said "more times in a few minutes than in the past year."

In the South Asian context, the press and politicians use such super-euphemisms as intruders, ultras and miscreants.

In the Israeli context, when describing an actual terrorist attack, the Hebrew press always uses the word "terrorist" but when describing, say, an IDF operation against Hamas, Tanzim, etc., it will most often use the term "Hamas activists" (pe'ilay Hamas) or "Tanzim activists" (pe'ilay Tanzim). Also common are the terms "Hamas man" (ish Hamas) or "Hamas men" (anshay Hamas).

Reuters, one of the outlets I named, has posted a page with its "Editorial Policy" that includes a question, "Why don't you describe terrorists as terrorists?" and this reply: "As part of a long-standing policy to avoid the use of emotive words, we do not use terms like ‘terrorist' and ‘freedom fighter' unless they are in a direct quote or are otherwise attributable to a third party. We do not characterize the subjects of news stories but instead report their actions, identity and background so that readers can make their own decisions based on the facts."

The Boston Globe's ombudsman, Christine Chinlund, took on the vexed matter of when to use the term terrorism a year ago. She acknowledged that the Globe routinely describes Hamas, "whose suicide bombers maim and kill Israeli citizens," as a militant, not a terrorist, group, and that this policy "infuriates" some readers. Chinlund justified the terminology by noting that tagging Hamas as a terrorist organization "is to ignore its far more complex role in the Middle East drama" and then fell back on the hoary myth that "One person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter." She reserved the terrorist label "for specific acts of violence," and preferred that it not be applied broadly to groups. Oh, and all that said, she endorsed the Globe referring to Al-Qaeda as a "terrorist network."
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