Monday 26 August 2019

Of Language and Lod

Rina Shnerb

BBC Watch takes apart a report about the murder of a 17 year old Israeli girl by Palestinian terrorists on Saturday's Midnight News on Radio 4, criticising several aspects of it: 

(1) The use of 'politically partisan language' - "militant", "settlement", "occupied West Bank" and "protests". 

(I'm assuming BBC Watch would prefer "terrorist", "village", "Judea and Samaria" and "violent riots"). 

(2) The 'downplaying' of the gravity of the attack which killed the girl while she was out hiking with her family.  The BBC's Yolande Knell said, "Unusually, a homemade bomb is said to have been used" whereas The Times of Israel says, "Channel 12 quoted unnamed officials as saying that the size and complexity of the device indicated that one of the major terror groups was behind the attack" and Channel 13’s military correspondent says that the IED weighed between three and four kilos and contained a large amount of shrapnel, adding that the incident was “planned and organised – and not a spontaneous or improvised terror attack”. 

(If the Israeli voices are correct there, then the BBC appears to have seriously mischaracterised the nature of the device used). 

(3) Yolande Knell's 'choice' to use the Arabic pronunciation of the name of the Israeli city of Lod. She pronounced it 'Lud'. 

(What a strange thing to do on Yolande's part! She unquestionably did pronounce it in the Arabic version 'Lud' rather than the Hebrew version 'Lod'. Is that another BBC guideline or her own choice?) 

BBC Watch is right to claim that the language used was deliberately chosen and also right that the chosen words cannot but shape how the listener reacts to the story. 

The geographical words used in point (1) are those recommended by the BBC's own editorial guidelines and commit the BBC to a particular line on the politics of that geography (which you may agree or disagree with), and the BBC's refusal to use words like "terrorist" and "riot" are a longstanding BBC policy to try not to be 'judgmental' in their language. Here such language is more favourable to the Palestinians than the Israelis, softening the harshness of the Palestinians and hardening the image of the 'occupying' Israelis. 

Quite why Yolande Knell gave a central Israeli city an Arabic pronunciation though remains beyond me. Was she being deliberately provocative?

As an aside, here's a fascinating YouTube video about the beautiful 19th Century rebuild of the Church of St. George in Lod - a church the city's Muslim overlords (even Saladin) kept on knocking down:

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