Saturday 9 March 2013

You say "extremist", I say "radical". Let's eat a tomato instead.

You never quite know whether to take these sort of stories at face value:

BBC tells its staff: don’t call Qatada extremist
The BBC has told its journalists not to call Abu Qatada, the al-Qaeda preacher, an “extremist”.
In order to avoid making a “value judgment”, the corporation’s managers have ruled that he can only be described as “radical”.
...BBC journalists were told they should not describe Qatada as an extremist. The guidance was issued at the BBC newsroom’s 9.00am editorial meeting yesterday, chaired by a senior manager, Andrew Roy.
According to notes of the meeting, seen by The Daily Telegraph, journalists were told: “Do not call him an extremist – we must call him a radical. Extremist implies a value judgment.”
A BBC spokesman said: “We think very carefully about the language we use. We do not ban words – the notes are a reflection of a live editorial discussion about how to report the latest developments on this story.” 
That came from February last year.

So did BBC journalists obey Andrew Roy's guidance or, following the BBC spokesman's assurance that it wasn't a ban, did they exercise their own judgement on that? "Extremist" or "radical" then. Well BBC, was the Telegraph having its readers on?

A search of the BBC News website (from February 2012 onwards) using the terms "extremist Qatada" brings up a  mere 8 results, of which seven quote others describing Qatada as an "extremist" rather than describing him in such a way themselves. Only one off-message, anonymous BBC reporter uses the oh-so-unbanned word in a single report.

A search of the BBC News website (from February 2012 onwards) using the terms "radical Qatada" brings up brings up 157 results. As you will see if you click on the link above, the term "radical cleric" is used without quotation marks. Mr. Roy's guidelines have been followed to the letter. The ban-that-isn't-a-ban-(but-is-really!) has been implemented. 

Abu Qatada, described by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe" remains, of course, an extremist. Just not according to BBC guidelines.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering what they were so afraid of, so I looked up the definitions of both words.
    Merriam Webster:
    ex·trem·ist  /ikˈstrēmist/

    A person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, esp. one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.

    rad·i·cal  /ˈradikəl/

    A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform.

    So both definitions seemed fairly accurate terms to describe Qatada. They seemed similar in that they both indicate a will to actively bring about “reform” according to “political” views. However the banned word seemed to fit the bill as the definition included the words ‘religious’ and ‘fanatical’. Surely there is enough evidence to justify using a term that embraces both these adjectives to describe Abu without misrepresenting anything?

    I wondered other dictionaries agreed with these definitions so I turned to the Oxford. The Oxford definition of the banned word does seem a little more, how can I put it... I’ll use their own term, derogatory.

    Oxford dictionaries.
    chiefly derogatory
    a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action:right-wing extremists

    A person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.

    Love the example they give of ‘extremist! “Right-wing extremist” Ha very ha! Was that the thing that put them off? Or was it the “derogatory”? Mustn’t annoy the Muslims with a value judgement. Even if it’s patently more accurate to use the term extremist, which seems to define Qatada to a T. 


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