"Words are sacred things. They are also like hand grenades. Handled casually, they tend to go off."
— Mary Cunningham, Newsweek
At its core, journalism is about using words and images to convey meaning. But words must be handled with care: a single word can change the meaning of an entire news report. The recent bombings in Britain and Israel have highlighted the subtle but powerful ways in which the news media's choice of words affects the way people understand the world.
Announcing a military operation in response to the deadly July 12 bombing in Netanya, the Israel Defense Forces said:
“The IDF conducted a pinpointed arrest activity against the Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructure in the area of Tulkarm, in order to disrupt and thwart the execution of terror attacks.”
But in its July 13 article by freelancer Carolynne Wheeler, “Suicide bomber kills 4 in Israeli mall,” the Globe and Mail reported:
“In a predawn raid today, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian policeman during a raid in Tulkarem in the West Bank, witnesses said, in what the army called retaliation for the suicide bombing.”
If the Israeli army called its operation a "pinpointed arrest activity," how did the Globe and Mail come to inaccurately paraphrase the army as calling its operation a "retaliation"?
HonestReporting Canada contacted the Globe and Mail to correct the inaccuracy. A Globe and Mail editor explained that the "retaliation" reference was inserted into Ms. Wheeler’s finished article by a copy editor, who took the information from a report by the Reuters news agency.
The Globe and Mail published this clarification today (July 14):
HonestReporting Canada commends the Globe and Mail for publishing a clarification promptly upon being notified of the error. However, the clarification should have specifically identified and corrected the erroneous claim that the Israeli army called its activity in Tulkarm "retaliation."
Whether aimed at British commuters or Israeli teenagers, the intentional use of violence against non-combatants in order to intimidate, and especially to achieve religious, political or ideological objectives, is terrorism.
But all too often, Canada’s news media try to avoid using the “terror” word. Either news organizations refuse to use the word at all, which strips meaning away from horrific events like 9/11, last week’s London bombings and this week’s attack in Netanya. Or they apply a double-standard, using the word selectively in some situations but refusing to use it in others. (CanWest newspapers have been a notable exception; this has attracted criticism from other media organizations.)
HonestReporting Canada and its members have long urged Canadian news organizations to “call terror by its name.” And over the past two weeks, HonestReporting Canada’s media monitors have noticed small but important changes.
In particular, the CBC used the “terror” word on several occasions in relation to both the London and Netanya bombings.
For example, a July 7 CBC web site article on the London bombings, entitled “More than 50 dead in London attacks,” began:
And a July 12 CBC Newsworld report about the Netanya bombing was introduced as follows:
“Terror at an Israeli shopping mall: A suicide bomber kills two people and wounds 30 others.” (Click here to see video.)
How You Can Make a Difference
HonestReporting Canada encourages readers to commend the CBC for using the word “terror” to accurately describe the premeditated murders of innocents in Britain and Israel. Email a brief letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please do NOT send letters that are angry, accusatory or abusive.
Please email a copy of your correspondence to email@example.com.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to fair and accurate
media coverage of Israel and the Middle East