A top BBC executive branded ‘mad’ after saying that Charlie Hebdo killers should not be described as ‘terrorists’

Tarik Kafala, who runs BBC ArabicTarik Kafala, who runs BBC Arabic

The BBC was branded ‘mad’ after one of its senior executives said the Charlie Hebdo killers should not be described as ‘terrorists’ as the term is too “loaded”.

Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services, said the term “terrorist” was seen as “value-laden” and should not be used to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine.

Several MPs claimed the BBC has ‘lost its sense’

“We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist,” Kafala was quoted as saying in the British media.

BBC Arabic, part of the World Service, broadcasts radio, online and a 24-hour news channel, throughout the Middle East.

BBC coverage of the atrocities in Paris, and the Taliban school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan, last month, studiously avoided using the word “terrorist”, except when quoting other people, in line with its editorial guidelines.

Instead TV, radio and online reports described the murderers who carried out the attacks as ‘militants’ or ‘gunmen’.

“What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.,” Kafala said.

“Terrorism is such a loaded word. The UN has been struggling for more than a decade to define the word and they can’t. It is very difficult to,” he added.

He continued, “We know what political violence is, we know what murder, bombings and shootings are and we describe them. That’s much more revealing, we believe, than using a word like terrorist which people will see as value-laden.”

The BBC’s exhaustive editorial guidelines run over 215 pages and contains guidance on all areas of its coverage including violence, swearing and nudity.

And it appears that Tarik Kafala is just following orders, writes the Daily Telegraph.

The BBC’s guidance says: “We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.”

‘We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution. When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.

Conservative MP Conor Burns, who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee, declared:”It is yet another example of Orwellian “1984” use of language by the BBC which serves to mask rather than illuminate.”

Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said: “Pulling this particular punch over terrorism is so serious that this man needs to consider his position. And the BBC needs to ask itself whether this view inspires confidence in its reporting or does the opposite.”

In a reaction, a BBC spokesman said: “There is no BBC ban on the word ‘terrorist’, as can be seen from our reporting of the terrorist attack in Paris, though we prefer a more precise description if possible – the Head of BBC Arabic was simply reflecting BBC editorial guidelines and making a general point about the nuances of broadcasting internationally.”