British Biased Corporation? Terrorists in London, gunmen in Mumbai

The BBC, attempting to appear unbiased, has laid itself open to accusations of bias. A group of politicians in the UK's ruling Labour party have questioned the BBC's use — or its decision to avoid using — the word "terrorist" to describe the 10 men responsible for nearly 200 deaths in Mumbai and calling them "gunmen" or "militants" instead.

One of them, Steve Pound, who represents the South Asian-heavy constituency of Ealing North in the British Parliament, said in a statement released to news agencies that it was "the worst sort of mealy-mouthed posturing."

The BBC has faced this accusation before: following the July 7, 2005 bombings of the public transport system in London, the perpetrators were described by correspondents as "terrorists"; until, that is, reactions from across the world that detailed how the broadcaster, seemed to be hypocritical in calling those bus bombers in London terrorists, but people who did an identical act in Northern Ireland or Peru "bombers" or "militants".

Later, BBC chairman Michael Grade told BBC's Today programme that the broadcaster should have called the July 7 bombers terrorists because they were universally viewed as such within the corporation. BBC is state-owned but independently run. Its guidelines say that the "terrorist" word is not banned, but should be used "sparingly" and that a bare reporting of facts could be a "barrier rather than an aid to understanding" and "undermine" the news organisation's "credibility".

The ultimate decision, they say, is the editor's and the correspondent's. Which may explain why British editors after the 7/7 attacks used the word "terrorist" for considerably longer than they did after the attacks in Mumbai. Since then, however, the BBC says it has been particularly circumspect, choosing to avoid making an editorial call for as long as possible on whether something is terrorism or not.

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