The BBC has been criticised for refusing to describe the perpetrators of the Bombay (Mumbai) massacre as terrorists.
The corporation has taken a policy decision to always refer to the gunmen in radio, television and online reports as militants despite reports linking the shooting to the Pakistani based terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. The group, whose name means Army of the Pious, is on the US watch list of terrorist organisations.
Respect MP George Galloway and the party’s leader, Cllr Salma Yaqoob, have today called for an urgent investigation by the Press Complaints Commission into “reckless, inaccurate and inflammatory” claims by several newspapers about the provenance of the gunmen who were responsible for the atrocities in Mumbai, India, last week.
It was established to fight against Indian rule in Kashmir and has past links to both Pakistani intelligence and al-Qaeda. L-e-T was founded in Afghanistan where it has said to have shared training camps with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
But the BBC said that it had decided, after much consideration, to carefully avoid the use of the word terrorist in volatile international situations such as the Bombay shootings, which left 174 dead and hundreds injured, because of the fear the meaning of the word could be lost in translation.
Stephen Pound, the chairman of the Labour Party Friends of India Group, said: “This is the worst sort of mealy mouthed posturing. It is desperation to avoid causing offence which ultimately causes more offence to everyone. The terrorist term is universal. The result is innocent victims slaughtered in restaurants by men brandishing machine guns. They are terrorists and the BBC should call them that.”
A BBC spokesman said: “This is nothing to do with political correctness. We are not calling them freedom fighters. We are call them bombers or militants. The fact is terrorist does not have a universal meaning. It translates as freedom fighters in certain languages. We are not alone in not calling them terrorists.”
“The word ‘terrorist’ is not banned from the BBC. BBC editorial guidelines are advisory but editors will exercise their own judgement on a case by case basis. The guidelines are aimed to support the BBC’s journalism not only in the UK but around the world and to cover a wide spectrum of global and political scenarios. They advise that we should report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly but that we should take care in the use of language that we use in our own scripts and reports. No one who has followed the BBC coverage of the attacks in Mumbai could be in any doubt of the full horror of last week’s atrocity.”
He added: “We are implementing the same guidelines as a number of other major media organisations who also do not use the word terrorist. The BBC always reports other people using the word, such as politiicans or police chiefs.”
The BBC has reported other people describing the killers as terrorists. When on Sunday Rakesh Maria, India’s joint Police Commissioner, said, “The terrorists were from a hard core group in the L-e-T”, the BBC reported his comments in full. It also reported those of the Indian Prime Minister who criticised the “terrorist” attacks.
L-e-T, which was founded in 1989, was banned in 2002 by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler of Pakistan, after pressure from the United States.