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non-neutrality at the CBC

This Magazine Staff

The National Post today reprints a memo, distributed to CBC staff, outlining the Corpse’s policy on the use of the word “terrorist” or “terrorism”. The gist of it is that staff should “Exercise extreme caution when using either word” with the guiding principle being that “we don’t judge specific acts as ‘terrorism’ or people as ‘terrorists'”.
The reasoning appears to be that calling something “terrorism” is a non-neutral description, “which can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.” So, the CBC is asking its staff to simply “describe the act or the individual, and let the viewer or listener or political representatives make their own judgement.”
This one has me a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I think the memo is generally quite judicious, and, despite what some in the media are saying, it is not the result of wishy-washy multi-culti attitudes. But at the same time, it seems a bit odd to accept that there are terrorists in the world who engage in terrorism, but to deny that any particular act or person fits the description.
Further, I wonder about whether the CBC memo is not a bit arbitrary. As Norman Spector points out in the Post today, the CBC is happy enough to use the term “genocide”, a term which is easily as controversial as “terrorism”. (I did a quick search of the CBC website, and sure enough, “genocide” is used frequently and in a non-attributive manner).
And look at the CBC memo itself. It suggests that one could hypothetically describe what happened as follows: “A suicide bomber blew up a bus full of unarmed civilians early Monday, killing at least two dozen people.”
But many radical Islamic mullahs reject the term “suicide bomber” as a non-neutral description, arguing that there are no suicides among martyrs. I’m not being glib here — it is a serious point. Killing yourself is not the same as martyring yourself. The term “unarmed civilians” is also non-neutral. Many Palestinians hold that there are no Israeli civilians, and that they are all fair game. Similar claims are made by radical muslim clerics to justify the fact that insurgents are killing thousands of civilians, including fellow muslims, in Iraq.
So the question isn’t whether the CBC can offer neutral descriptions of the world, that is impossible. To describe is to judge, and to judge is to take sides. The question is whether the CBC has drawn the line in the right place.
UPDATE: In today’s edition of Norman’s Spectator, Norman Spector draws our attention to the fact that over at Radio-Canada, they’ve told the CBC to take a hike over the memo. Spector writes:
Beyond embarrassment, however, it can’t have escaped these CBC reporters that, far from not taking sides–as Burman suggests–the policy of terminological confusion helps one side–the side interested in brainwashing future suicide bombers and other terrorists.
To those who, understandably, worry about their jobs–believe me, you have nothing to fear: Burman is an intellectual second-rater, and doesn’t have the guts to defend his policies.

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