BBC's John Simpson Defends Broadcaster's Selective Language Around Hamas

The BBC has been criticised for not referring to Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
The BBC's World Affairs editor John Simpson
The BBC's World Affairs editor John Simpson
Rick Findler - PA Images via Getty Images

The BBC’s John Simpson released a robust defence of his employer yesterday after the broadcaster was heavily criticised for not using the word “terrorist” to describe Hamas fighters.

The Palestinian militant group launched a surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, in what has been condemned as the deadliest day in the state’s history.

Israel subsequently declared war on Hamas, calling them “human animals” while announcing a complete siege of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

More than a thousand people in total are said to have been killed by the brutal conflict so far.

While covering the war, the BBC has refrained from using the word “terrorist”, instead usually referring to them as “militants”.

This has prompted intense criticism from former employees and senior politicians – especially as Hamas was denounced as a terrorist group by the UK government back in 2021.

On Tuesday evening, Simpson – the BBC’s world affairs editor – jumped to the broadcaster’s defence.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, he said: “British politicians know perfectly well why the BBC avoids the word ‘terrorist’ and over the years plenty of them have privately agreed with it.

“Calling someone a terrorist means you’re taking sides and ceasing to treat the situation with due impartiality.

“The BBC’s job is place the facts before its audience and let them decide what they think, honestly and without ranting.

“That’s why, in Britain and throughout the world, nearly half a billion people watch, listen to and read us. There’s always someone who would like us to rant. Sorry, it’s not what we do.”

About half an hour later, Simpson followed up with another post, which read: “In September 1939, when Britain’s very survival was at stake, the BBC issued rules to its staff how to broadcast about the coming war.

“You must be frank and honest, it said — and above all there must be no room for ranting. Wise words, entirely applicable today.”

Simpson’s remarks came after the BBC’s former North America editor Jon Sopel criticised his ex-employer, saying that its current editorial guidelines were “no longer fit for purpose”.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines read: “We should not use the term ‘terrorist’ without attribution.

“We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened.”

It suggests journalists use words which specifically describe the perpetrator, such as “bomber”, “attacker” or “gunman” instead.

It concluded: “We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; own 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.”

On Wednesday morning, the defence secretary Grant Shapps also weighed into the debate.

He said it was not the right time for the bradocaster to get “the moral compass out”, saying it was “disgraceful” for the BBC to dodge the word “terrorists”.


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