Newspapers accused of misusing word 'terrorist'

Canada's largest newspaper chain, CanWest Global, is being attacked over its use of the word 'terrorist'

Canada's largest newspaper chain, CanWest Global, is being criticized over its use of the word "terrorist" in stories about the Middle East.

The owner of the National Post and dozens of other papers across Canada is being accused of inappropriately inserting the word into newswire copy dealing with the Middle East, thereby changing the meaning of those stories.

One of the world's leading news agencies, Reuters, said CanWest newspapers have been altering words and phrases in stories dealing with the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reuters told CBC News it would complain to CanWest about the issue.

The global managing editor for Reuters, David Schlesinger, called such changes unacceptable. He said CanWest had crossed a line from editing for style to editing the substance and slant of news from the Middle East.

"If they want to put their own judgment into it, they're free to do that, but then they shouldn't say that it's by a Reuters reporter," said Schlesinger.

As an example, Schlesinger cited a recent Reuters story, in which the original copy read: "...the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

In the National Post version of the story, printed Tuesday, it became: "...the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel."

Neither the National Post nor CanWest returned calls.

But the Ottawa Citizen, another CanWest paper, has admitted to making erroneous changes in a story about Iraq from another leading news agency.

Last week, the Citizen inserted the word "terrorist" seven times into an Associated Press story on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where Iraqi insurgents have been battling U.S.-led occupation forces.

In an interview, Ottawa Citizen editor Scott Anderson conceded fighters in Fallujah were not terrorists but said CanWest has a policy of renaming some groups as terrorists.

He added the paper had applied that term primarily to Arab groups, and that mistakes had been made occasionally.

However, Anderson said he did not believe the paper had a duty to inform its readers when it changed words.

"We're editing for style...," he said. "We're editing so that we have clear consistent language to describe what's going on in the world. And if we've made a mistake, we should correct that. And we will."

In response to a reader's letter published Friday about the Fallujah article, the Citizen wrote: "The changes to the Associated Press story do not reflect Citizen policy, which is to use the term 'terrorist' to describe someone who deliberately targets civilians. As such, the changes to the Associated Press story were made in error."

Riad Saloojee, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, says the organization wants Canadian press watchdogs to investigate CanWest.

"We're going to be asking the Ontario Press Council to investigate exactly the extent of this policy across the country in other CanWest publications," said Saloojee.