This is not a new policy. It looks like the decision was taken in the aftermath of the July 7, 2005 London Underground and bus bombings. While the first reports on the BBC website referred to "terrorists" later they changed it to "bombers". BBC's explanation was: they do not want to use words that "carry emotional or value judgements".
- Read Telegraph report of July 12, 2005, on this here
- Read the Criticisms and the BBC's explanation on July 13, 2005 here
- Read the BBC's editorial guidelines on "Use of language when reporting terrorism" here
- Read the BBC's editorial guidelines in full on war, terror and emergencies here
Objectivity and impartiality are difficult to achieve, if not altogether impossible. And efforts to achieve that only robs the reportage of life. Use of seemingly neutral expressions runs the risk of making the report insipid. If one follows BBC news reports, it'll be clear that they use lot of hard facts and try to balance views with counterviews as far as possible, probably to make the news reports more authoritative and impartial. The challenging tightrope walk is probably the price BBC has to pay for the acclaimed global audience.
I watched all the three programmes telecast yesterday by the BBC to commemorate 75 years of the BBC World Service Radio. They highlighted the difficulties experienced by reporters in covering conflict, where truth isn't in black and white but in different shades of grey.
The episode I liked was the one on West Asia, probably because it's one of my favourite subjects. The region is described as a crucible of violent ideologies and it's also one of the most difficult areas to report from. The reporters are clearly told not use the word terrorist, and to be objective and neutral. The programmes showed the efforts the BBC takes to ensure they have accurate information in their quest to get to the truth.
Reporting from West Asia can be tricky -- no one would know that better than BBC's Barbra Plett. In the programme "From Our Own Correspondent" broadcast on BBC4 on October 30, 2004, Plett said, "..... when the helicopter carrying the frail old man (Yasser Arafat) rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry... without warning...." That got her into real trouble. BBC is more often criticised for its anti-Israel stand than the other way round, and there was a barrage of complaints over the use of the word "cry".
The BBC governors upheld part of a complaint against Plett. Her comments "breached the requirements of due impartiality", they ruled. From Our Own Correspondent is a programme which, unlike a routine news report, allows the listeners to get the correspondents' personal experience of the news event. It's difficult to be impartial and objective while being personal. It's tough reporting under such circumstances.