A behind-the-scenes media battle over use of the word “terrorism” in news stories is surfacing after a newspaper decided to change the wording of a Reuters report to more accurately reflect violence in the Middle East.
According to the media-watchdog organization Honest Reporting, the National Post of Canada altered a line in a Sept. 14 Reuters report which Honest Reporting says whitewashes Palestinian terror.
The original Reuters line stated: “… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a 4-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.”
The National Post changed it to: “… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel.”
The National Post is owned by CanWest, holders of Canada’s largest newspaper chain which recently implemented a new editorial policy to use the “T-word” in reports on brutal terrorist acts and groups.
Reuters reportedly was not thrilled with the adjustment to its story.
“Our editorial policy is that we don’t use emotive words when labeling someone,” David A. Schlesinger, Reuters’ global managing editor told the New York Times. “Any paper can change copy and do whatever they want. But if a paper wants to change our copy that way, we would be more comfortable if they remove the byline.”
Schlesinger indicated changes like those made at CanWest could lead to “confusion” about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations.
“My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity,” he said.
“This is a stunning admission,” notes Honest Reporting. “Reuters’ top international editor openly acknowledges that one of the main reasons his agency refuses to call terrorists ‘terrorists’ has nothing to do with editorial pursuit of objectivity, but rather is a response to intimidation from thugs and their supporters.
“In every other news arena, Western journalists pride themselves on bravely ‘telling it as is,’ regardless of their subjects’ (potentially hostile) reactions. So why do editors at Reuters – and, presumably, other news outlets – bend over backwards to appease Islamic terrorists, using ‘safe’ language that deliberately minimizes their inhuman acts?”
Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of CanWest Publications, said Reuters’ policy “undermine[s] journalistic principles,” and raised the key question: “If you’re couching language to protect people, are you telling the truth?”
The issue was addressed in a recent editorial published in the Ottawa Citizen, one of CanWest’s newspapers:
Terrorism is a technical term. It describes a modus operandi, a tactic. We side with security professionals who define terrorism as the deliberate targeting of civilians in pursuit of a political goal. Those who bombed the nightclub in Bali were terrorists. Suicide bombers who strap explosives to their bodies and blow up people eating in a pizza parlor are terrorists. The men and women who took a school full of hostages in Beslan, Russia, and shot some of the children in the back as they tried to flee to safety were terrorists. We as journalists do not violate our impartiality by describing them as such.
Ironically, it is supposedly neutral terms like ‘militant’ that betray a bias, insofar as they have a sanitizing effect. Activists for various political causes can be ‘militant,’ but they don’t take children hostage.
As WorldNetDaily previously reported, in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S., Stephen Jukes, Reuters’ global head of news, decreed the wire service’s 2,500 reporters shouldn’t use the word “terrorist” unless in a direct quote.
“We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist,” Jukes wrote in an internal memo. “To be frank, it adds little to call the attack on the World Trade Center a terrorist attack.”
His comments were blasted by former Congressman J.C. Watts, R.-Okla., who urged the news agency to reconsider.
“I fail to see how this noun is not an accurate portrayal of the aggressors who committed the acts of violence witnessed by the entire world last month,” Watts wrote in a letter to Tom Glover, chief executive officer and Geert Linnebank, editor-in-chief of the Reuters Group in London.
“I am not asking Reuters to be Radio Free Afghanistan. Rather, I am merely requesting that you not sever the word “terrorist” from your stylebook,” he wrote.