Friday, December 25, 2009

Reuters: one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter

Reuters global news editor Stephen Jukes once (in)famously wrote (scroll down):
We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist.
A long-standing complaint against Reuters is that the news agency refuses to characterize violent attacks aimed at civilians as terrorism or that the word "terrorist" may appear in a story but only in scare quotes.  Reuters can also occasionally be caught characterizing as terrorists some groups which target civilians and not others, depending we suppose, on whether in the view of the writer, the group's political aims are palatable.

For example, in a story from May of this year about civilians fleeing the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers, Reuters correspondent C. Bryson Hull writes:
Sri Lanka again ruled out any truce and said troops were only using small arms while trying to free civilians. It applauded the council's recognition of its right to combat terrorism on its own soil... The Tigers, on U.S., EU, Canadian and Indian terrorist lists, have vowed no surrender in their fight for a separate nation for Sri Lankan minority Tamils, which began in the 1970s and erupted into full-scale civil war in 1983.
Note the use of the words terrorism and terrorist sans quotation marks and the specific mention of listing of the Tigers as a terrorist group by the US, EU, Canada and India.

Now compare that treatment with this:
Hai was the first Israeli fatality in a Palestinian militant attack in the West Bank since April,
excerpted from a Reuters story today about the shooting death of Meir Avshalom Hai while driving his car near Nablus.

Reuters correspondents Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ori Lewis not only fastidiously exclude use of any variation of the word terrorist, but fail also to explain to readers that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which took credit for the attack, is similarly designated as a terrorist group by the US, EU, and Canada.

We think a refresher course on the Reuters Handbook of Journalism is in order:
Reuters would not be Reuters without freedom from bias. We are a “stateless” news service that welcomes diversity into our newsrooms but asks all staff to park their nationality and politics at the door. This neutrality is a hallmark of our news brand and allows us to work on all sides of an issue, conflict or dispute without any agenda other than accurate, fair reporting.

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