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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 27, 2003

How can the BBC be impartial between tyranny and democracy?

Barbara Amiel writing in the Daily Telegraph has a way with words
This raises a further difficulty. To be impartial between the Ba'athist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the Wahhabi theocracy of Saudi Arabia and the Islamist terror of the late, unlamented Taliban on one hand and Israel, the single functioning democracy of the Middle East and the West on the other is in the same ballpark as being impartial between any of the totalitarian systems of the 20th century and liberal democracy.
And on the question of refusing to call a terrorist a terrorist
Mr Asserson objected to the BBC's refusal to use the word "terrorist" to describe a number of organisations.

Sambrook's reply (on behalf of the BBC) emphasised the need to "rely on neutral language where the political legitimacy of particular actions is hotly and widely contested". He told Mr Asserson that "just as you complain when we do not describe groups such as Hamas as terrorists, pro-Palestinian sources complain that to describe them (as we do) as 'militants' is derogatory and evidence of an anti-Palestine bias".

Sambrook's problem goes beyond the sophistry that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. The BBC expects us to be grateful when it doesn't call terrorists freedom fighters.

But, inadvertently, the BBC has discovered one bit of truth: if you try to use euphemisms such as the BBC's preferred word "militants" for terrorists, the language boomerangs on you. By now weasel words such as "militants" are simply regarded as synonyms for terrorists. Language has this marvellous quality of being hostile to cant.

This will never be discussed on the "impartial" world of the BBC Arabic Service. There, the Director of News appears to believe that objections to its failure to describe people who deliberately blow up civilians in buses as "terrorists" and objections to its describing such people as "militants" carry the same weight and ought to be balanced on some scale of equity known only to the BBC.

And, indeed, such a mindset illustrates the fundamental problem of that organisation better than any argument I can ever make.