I often wince when local and international media refer to terrorists using the more sanitized term, “militants”; a term that offers legitimacy and/or a more positive connotation for those that resort to deadly violence for a cause.
Sure enough, if I were a journalist writing for Australia’s ABC, Britain’s BBC or the likes of AFP, I would find myself avoiding the term ‘terrorist” knowing in advance that it would, almost certainly be edited.
Hence, it was pleasing to note Mark Henderson's recent write up on this at The Australian Conservative:
The battle against terrorism is a long and difficult one that requires the responsible and committed involvement of all layers of government and other institutions.
One of those institutions is the news media. It is high time the media stopped providing terrorist groups with some kind of legitimacy by referring to them as “militants”. Terrorists are not “militants” - they are terrorists.
The issue has again been highlighted in the wake of the tragic attacks in India at the weekend. At least 21 people were killed and more than 100 injured - many seriously - in a series of bomb attacks in the capital New Delhi. The attacks have been claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen.
Channel Nine news reported the attacks as being the work of “Islamic Militant groups”, while the ABC Online carried a Reuters report that referred to “militant attacks”. The justification that the ABC has previously provided for using the term “militant” is that they do not want to “label” groups. It would be quite wrong to hurt the feelings of terrorists by actually calling them terrorists.
Until it was embarrassed into changing its policy, the ABC News department used to remind its journalists that “one man’s terrorist is another one’s freedom fighter”.
So the murderous Indian Mujahideen are “militants” and some people’s freedom fighters. Quite what freedom they are fighting for is unclear when they said the reason for the New Delhi attacks was revenge.
The Reuters report that the ABC ran included this quote: “The National Counter-terrorism Centre in Washington says 3,674 people had been killed in militant attacks in India between January 2004 and March 2007, a death toll second only to that in Iraq.”
The NCTC said no such thing. Their whole report on global terrorism in 2007 refers to just that - terrorism. It even defines terrorism and gives examples of attacks that are NOT terrorism.
Here is how they define terrorism: “Premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents.” There is no mention of the word “militant.”
It is high time the news media started to play a responsible role in the war against terrorism. They should stop giving legitimacy to murderous terrorists by sanitizing them with the description of militant.
I recall in 2005 and following the London bombings that the BBC and even the leftist Guardian quite unexpectedly discovered the word terrorism in its reporting. I guess it was different reporting on an event that occurred in the neighborhood rather than somewhere else. In contrast to reporting of similar events elsewhere, where we find a preference for terms like, "fighters,” “activists,” “guerrillas” and “militants.” In covering the London bombings news organizations did what’s expected, report the facts and the suffering imposed, without the usual predisposition in relation to the perpetrators, as is frequently the case, when covering comparable atrocities in for example, Israel.