BBC removes ‘terror’ in the language of the Westminster ‘attack’
When Khalid Masood drove his car into scores of people on Westminster Bridge with the intention of killing them and then murdered a policeman, the media was quick to call it an act of terrorism.
Massod is dead, which means we will never know why he did it. All we can do is to speculate. We’d like to find a cause for his heinous crimes. It would offer us comfort, enable us to explain everything and thereby work out how to avoid future episodes. Was Masood driven by a cause? Was he a violent man who found a cause that gave him opportunity to commit murder?
Which leads into how we label Masood. For some days, Masood has been a “terrorist”. He is now an “attacker”. Michael Rosen noticed:
Language matters. The BBC advises:
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…
The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened. We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “insurgent”, and “militant”. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.
The word terrorist can carry a political meaning. They criminal has a cause. Calling Masood a terrorist does not justify or mitigate his dreadful crimes, but it does load the horror with cultural and political meaning. The attacker has one role: to attack.