Clear now?

Tim Blair has some choice quotes from an ABC interview with Phil Rees. Rees says:

When I joined the BBC, by the way, 20 years ago now, it was assumed, it was a basic standard, that you adopted the idiom that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.


If you use terms like militants, insurgents, guerrillas, you are not saying these people are evil. The word ‘terror’ conjures up a lot more. If I can persuade you that somebody else is a terrorist, then what we are doing is saying that we agree that this person is morally wrong.

Can’t have that. As Tim Blair says, “Who are we to deny this individual the truth of his journey?” Here’s one The Good Blair didn’t mention:

… certainly at the time of 9/11, they used the word ‘terrorist’ to describe the perpetrators. But it is quite funny, that when one of the senior managers suggested that it shouldn’t be used again, there was, not a rebellion but I think several staff members think that the BBC should enter the real world, and accept the language of what people in the street are saying. Now fine, but in doing that, as I say, you are in a way, supporting the Bush Administration and the language that it uses and its enemies.

Rees is exactly what you’d expect, but it is interesting to learn that several World Service staff members, while not exactly rebelling, thought that the word “terrorist” should be used.

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23 Responses to Clear now?

  1. Susan says:

    I think it’s a safe bet that if Phil Rees’s children were killed by terrorists, he wouldn’t call them “militants” or “insurgents.”


  2. Rob Read says:

    He might even get a bit annoyed if we called them freedom fighters…


  3. dave t says:

    When Frank Gardner their security correspondent was shot in Saudi the BBC called them ‘terrorists’. Even Natasha K did so on Breakfast News. One rule for those who shoot BBC staff and one for the rest of us?


  4. Daedalus says:

    well, you’ve just disproven the whole point of your blog. by refusing to use the word terrorist, he is leaving out bias. because terrorist implies bias against the groups. freedom fighter implies bias towards the groups. using insurgents or militants simply says they are fighting against US/UK/Iraqi forces.

    Terrorism is a military tactic. The use of the word should be confined to its definition, regardless of how you feel about these monsters.


  5. alex says:


    I take your point, but you have strayed into the no-mans land that is relativism. If Rees were standing on the ledge of the eightieth floor of a burning World Trade Centre, faced with the choice of jumping or burning to death then and there, I dont suppose he`d have time to contemplate the nuances of the language.

    It is said that those who jumped did so that they may take one final breath of cool, clean air away from the conflagration.

    Those who attacked the World Trade Centre were Terrorists, as are others who commit similar acts. To suggest otherwise is to furthur denigrate the lives already lost. Western Civilization was created by men of Conviction, the postmodern fashion for Relativism may be its undoing.


  6. DumbJon says:

    This a topic about which many PhDs could argue until the cows come home. Nevertheless, there is one simple test available to us: – if the act in question was commited by BNP members against asylum seekers, would the BBC call the BNP members in question “insurgents” ?


  7. Lydell says:

    How about murderers?


  8. JohninLondon says:

    Rees is typical of BBC jornlists – not only shy of using the clear word terrorism, but INACCURATE. He clims tht the UN hs filed for 17 years to define terrorism. The fct is, the UN never even tried to define it until recently. But they have now defined it, and it includes the type of killers operating in Iraq. Which demolishes his entire argument.

    But we would not expect the BBC or the Asie equivalent to recognise or state this. They would rather carry onj with the weasel words. Just the other morning a BBC Today interviewer interrupted a speaker to trot out the trite line “of course one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. With a smug superior tone. We plebs are wrong to call suicide bombers terrorists – only the BBC intelligentsia really understand the nuances of world politics.

    Trahison des clercs !


  9. David Field says:

    PR note for terrorist groups: choose a good name e.g. Freedom Fighters. Then when anyone refers to you, they will have to call you Freedom Fighters!

    Of course there are complex issues here. The French Resistance committed lots of terrorist acts during – and after – the war, often against non-combatants. However, I think it would have been wrong to call them all “terrorists”. I think the terms is best preserved for groups who have specifically decided to use terror as their principal means of pursuing a conflict and whose aims are not to remove tyranny but rather to install it. On this basis groups like the IRA, Al Queda, neo-Nazi cells, and even the Nepalese Maoists are terrorist. How we define terror is difficult but not impossible. There must be a definition which will embrace such acts as the suicide bombing of a Shia Mosque by Sunni Muslims; the placing of bombs on crowded trains etc etc.


  10. James Hamilton says:

    Rees’ concern, at least insofar as this interview is concerned, is entirely with avoiding any verbal or physical act that might share a point with Americans. That avoiding concurrence with Washington puts him time and again into the ideological palm of other groups appears to pass him by, to the extent that he regards it as objectivity.


  11. Joe N. says:

    What’s disturbing is when they don’t use the basic and literal descriptions of events – like saying “killed innocent civilians” “attacked an unaware public” when it comes to violations against westerners. That is far more disturbing than avoiding words like terror – far worse. Their ommissions and non-reporting are universal problems. They are one where NOT telling their viewers and listeners what’s happening is as bad as manipulating their precious little house-of-cards vocabulary.


  12. Verity says:

    OT – On its site today, the Beeb gravely asks the public to comment on: “Did Tony Blair pay election price for the Iraq war?”

    Where to begin? Why cannot they see that hundreds of thousands/millions of voters were rejecting Blair personally, his inept government, his fascist imposition of extreme socialism, his imperious, ignorant trashing of British civil liberties and our constitution?

    But no, every obvious reason for hating Blair has to be subverted to the BBC’s King Charles’s head.

    They really must go. They serve no purpose.


  13. Sizzle says:

    >by refusing to use the word terrorist, he is leaving out bias. because terrorist implies bias against the groups. freedom fighter implies bias towards the groups. using insurgents or militants simply says they are fighting against US/UK/Iraqi forces.

    The BBC uses loaded language when it suits them. They retreat to supposedly neutral terms when they want to create the impression that America and its allies are no better than the terrorists.

    Neutral terms are appropriate in some cases. Not here. Would we have called the Nazis “German insurgents”?


  14. Hazel says:

    Daedalus, terrorism is NOT a “military tactic”. A military tactic is taking on your enemy’s military.

    The definition of terrorism is: aiming to achieve political goals by deliberately targetting, killing and maiming CIVILIANS. That is why terrorists are such cowards.

    This is why DELIBERATELY killing civilians in this way is always terrorism, never insurgency or militant activity.

    It is disgusting that the BBC does not keep to this definition, except, as noted above, when it’s a BBC employee like Frank Gardner who gets shot. That suddenly makes it all completely different from shoppers buying their family’s food in a Baghdad market or small children having a drink in an Israeli cafe, both DELIBERATELY targeted by suicide bombers. To the BBC, that’s just insurgency.



  15. alex says:


    heres Simon Heffer writing in this weeks Spectator (about Michael Howard)”………he and his party had to deal with not two, but three, main opponents: the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, and the BBC, whose tone of institutional leftism was unconcealed throughout the campaign, and must one day be radically dealt with.”


  16. David Field says:

    The BBC also I think consciously refrain from describing the motives of the terrorists in Iraq. By failing to explain that Al Queda wish to institute Shariah law they leave viewers with the vague impression that the insurgency is probably a nationalist one. In fact the insurgency is clearly made up of different elements: Islamic ideologues, Sunni revanchists, and clan based pro-Saddamites, together with a few genuine Baathists make up the mix.


  17. Lydell says:

    Bush admin and its enemies… Here we go. Anti-Americanism is alive and well among the auntie cohorts. Who the hell are the enemies of the so-called Bush administration? Are they not the slime who crash planes into buidings and blow up people in Baghdad and Jerusalem, and yes, even once did it, and probably will do it again in London?


  18. Michael Gill says:

    “It is disgusting that the BBC does not keep to this definition, except, as noted above, when it’s a BBC employee like Frank Gardner who gets shot.”

    Hazel – you are correct. The BBC is completely hypocritical on this. They explicitly use the word “terrorist” when referring to an action suspected to have been carried out by the same group that bombed BBC TV Centre: “A suspected terrorist bomb packed with high explosives has blown out windows at a post office delivery depot in north London.”


  19. chevalier de st george says:

    “of course one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”
    and one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s freedom fighting BBC journalist.
    etc etc

    Ultimately we prove that terrorists are peace loving Buddhists.


  20. chevalier de st george says:

    David field
    Of course the BBC will always report religious conflict as nationalistic conflict. The one exception being when the aggression stems from Christianity.
    Ask any Hindu how they view the Beeb’s reporting of Hindu Islamic conflict.
    Ask any Israeli the same regarding Judeo Islamic conflict.
    Or for that matter even ask the Sudanese christians.


  21. David says:

    IMHO there is a rough scale to distinguish terrorists from freedom fighters, militants, insurgents and most importantly soldiers.

    The closer an act of violence falls on this scale to traditional military combat the less likely it is to be terrorism. It may nevertheless be a war crime. Take the action further from a military object the more it is likely to be terrorism.

    Thus armed, uniformed combatants targeting each other on a battleground in a declared war (e.g. WWI)is the act of soldiers.

    Moslem Indonesians killing random Australian and British tourists and Hindu Indonesians, on an island where they didn’t reside, to protest American support actions against a Saudi Arabian milionaire operating in Afganistan (i.e Bali Bombing) is clearly the act of terrorists.

    An act may approach terrorism in some cases but not others. Palestinians kidnapping and killing a uniformed IDF soldier in Israel is qualitively different to placing a bomb in a restaurant in Paris owned by Jews. Degree of separation is the key.


  22. still says:


    to chevalier de st george

    I agree with you.

    To All

    I am an Indian, by religion Hindu. In India I lived in state of Gujarat, If noticed than Gujarat was in news for religious riots in 2002. I think bbc was first to term Hindu pilgrims as militants, the word which is used as synonym for terrorist in india. One recent example is following story
    Headline says that “Gujarat riot Muslims ‘eliminated'” where as IF ALLEGATIONS are right than Mr. Modi ordered elimination of criminals not of Muslims as race. Note here that in Gujarat “underworld” Muslims are in majority. There are thousands of examples like that. In run up of 2002 riots BBC purposely defamed Gujarat people as oppressors of Muslim community which is completely wrong. BBC never tried to find feelings of other side. The incident which caused the riots was murder of 56 Hindu pilgrim by Muslim mob. If you read or hear BBC than you would conclude that Hindu were responsible for riot and they killed Muslims where as loss were on both sides.
    I do not have to pay tax for BBC, but BBC is one of the largest news organization with greatest reach. So It does concern me the way BBC put news about India and Hindu.
    And yeh election in Briton one has one significant point.

    Respect-Unity Coalition

    This is exactly how minority is getting government in India. The votes on principle are divided between Labour and Conservative, Religious votes went to Respect party without explicitly saying that. (used war on Iraq instead of asking Muslim vote directly.)
    Have a look at Indian election record it’s the same thing.


  23. still says:

    The results are of
    Bethnal Green & Bow seat