The Current

Eye On The Media: 'Terrorism' and Loaded Language

"Terrorism" is a loaded term, but the BBC's decision to avoid it -- even when describing the Charlie Hebdo attack -- is proving to be a loaded decision. As part of our on-going feature, Eye on the Media, we convene a panel to weigh the the words we use, to bring you the news....

Bombings and kidnappings, beheadings and immolations, drone attacks and suicide bombers... The content of the news is frightening on a daily basis. There's no doubt about that. But the language news organizations use to bring us those stories, is up for debate ... especially when it comes to such words as "terror."

It's a term that many would have no problem applying to the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, that killed 12 people in France.

But a BBC executive made headlines himself when he told journalists to avoid the words "terror" and "terrorist" in describing what happened there.

Tarik Kafala, who heads up the BBC's Arabic service, said that "terrorism" is too "loaded" a word. He elaborated by saying, "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."

And a similar discussion has been happening at the Al-Jazeera news network. An executive there, Carlos Van Meek, sent a memo to staff just last week instructing them not to use terms such as "extremist," "terrorist," "radicals," "insurgents" and "jihad." A similar guideline was already in place.

The language that news organizations choose does have real consequences --- It colours the way we all understand the world, and what's happening in it.

Today our Eye on the Media is weighing the value of using -- or avoiding -- certain loaded terms, such as "terror."

  • Lise Ravary is an author and columnist for Le Journal de Montreal. She was in Montreal.

  • Davis Lewin is Deputy Director and Head of Policy and Research for The Henry Jackson Society-- a British foreign policy and security think think. He was in London, England.

  • Roy Peter Clark is a Vice President and Senior Scholar at The Poynter Institute. He was in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What are your thoughts on this discussion. Add your voice.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Josh Bloch.

Last Word: Comedian Scott Vrooman on the use of the word "Terror"

Canadian comedian Scott Vrooman made a video last fall for the Toronto Star, he makes the case that we should all give up on the word "Terror," because -- he says -- it makes us "dumber."


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