Major attacks in Turkey and Egypt have once again given the media the dilemma of whether to use the terms “terror” or “terrorism.”
Most news companies tell their reporters to refrain from using the term while at the same time describing in detail what took place. One senior journalist told me that they refrain from using the term “terrorism” because it can mean “lots of things to lots of people.”
I don’t understand how “terrorism” can mean that many different things. Radical Islamic bombers indiscriminately killing people at a stadium and in a church? Sounds like the textbook definition of terrorism.
At least I expect the media to be consistent. If an attack or group is “terrorist” in Egypt or Turkey, a similar attack against innocent Israelis should get the same treatment.
But I think it is almost impossible to put certain words off limits. In today’s instant news cycle, these words will get through and no matter what the policy, inconsistencies are bound to surface.
The Washington Post recorded that Turkey:
…has been hit by multiple terrorist attacks in recent years…
Even though, there have been literally hundreds of attacks against innocent Israelis, I cannot recall the Post ever reporting that Israel has been hit by multiple terrorist attacks.
The Associated Press refrained from using the word, even though the graphic descriptions left no doubt about the nature of the attack. What I find interesting is that they will publish the word when it is being said by someone else. So we have “terrorist attack” attributed to the Turkish Interior Minister, the Turkish President vowed to fight the “curse of terrorism to the end.” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted saying:
Israel condemns any terror in Turkey, and Israel expects Turkey to condemn any act of terror in Israel. The battle against terror must be mutual.”
Yet the AP avoided using the term in its own voice.
Reuters went a little further. In addition to both direct quotations and statements attributed to sources in the story, they noted that the attacks may have been the work of the:
PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Europe and Turkey.
Hamas is also designated a terrorist organization by the Unites States and others. Yet when Reuters writes about Hamas, it does not mention this fact, as in this example when the group is referred to as “the Islamist group that has run Gaza since 2007.”
Why note that the U.S. calls the PKK terrorist and neglect to mention this about Hamas? Again, when everyone is talking about terrorism, it is just not possible for the media to ban its usage.
The group BBC Watch noted that the BBC refrained from using the word in reference to the attacks, even in quotations. However, in another article it ran the headline “Terrorism Most Immediate Threat to UK says M6.”
People are seeing the word in quotations and headlines. It’s out in the public realm no matter what the style guides of major media say. Reporters in the field are being put to a major disadvantage when they are not allowed to use it.
It is not sustainable for the media to try and avoid a term that describes a real global problem, especially when it is being used frequently by people in the news.
Most countries have an official definition of terrorism. While these definitions differ slightly, they do not leave room for the word to mean “lots of things.” Why can’t the media do the same?