The BBC has quietly dropped the use of word ‘militants’ to refer to Hamas following weeks of pressure, it has emerged.
The corporation will now call the group a ‘proscribed terrorist organisation’ by the UK Government or others.
BBC News has faced huge criticism over its refusal to describe Hamas fighters as terrorists, even though the Home Office classifies the group as a ‘terrorist organisation’.
The broadcaster, which has cited its editorial guidelines as the reason for refusing to use the word terrorist, had previously been calling the fighters ‘militants’. It also described the slaughter of Israeli civilians as a ‘militant’ attack.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis had accused the BBC of trying to ‘wilfully mislead’, while a string of politicians attacked the BBC over its choice of words.
But a statement by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, after it met BBC director-general Tim Davie and other bosses yesterday, revealed the BBC had stopped using the word ‘militants’. It said: ‘The BBC confirmed it was committed to continued dialogue. It also confirmed it is no longer BBC practice to call Hamas militants.
Members of the Jewish community gather outside BBC Broadcasting House on Monday
The National Jewish Assembly protested the BBC’s refusal to label Hamas as terrorists
Instead, the BBC describes the group as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the UK Government or others, or simply as Hamas.’
The new measure stops short of the BBC describing Hamas fighters as terrorists in its own words.
A BBC source later added the broadcaster has not banned the use of the word ‘militants’ in reporting about Hamas, but it is no longer the ‘default’ way of referring to the group.
The Board of Deputies, the biggest Jewish community organisation in the UK, said the ‘BBC was left in no doubt as to the strength of feeling in the Jewish community’. Mr Davie said: ‘The BBC is committed to continuing dialogue through this period.’ Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said: ‘We emphasised our outrage at the refusal of the BBC to describe Hamas’s barbaric actions as terrorism and the damaging, false report of the rocket which killed innocent civilians. We will both continue dialogue as well as pursuing legal avenues.’
Explaining the decision to drop the term ‘militant’, a spokesman for the BBC said: ‘What the BBC does not do is use the word terrorist without attributing it, nor do we ban words.
‘We also confirmed that for some days we had not been using ‘militant’ as a default description for Hamas, as we have been finding this a less accurate description as the situation evolves.’
Israel is poised to temporarily close broadcaster Al Jazeera in the country, as it emerged the BBC could also have its access cut off by Israeli officials over its refusal to call Hamas terrorists.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera has been accused by the Israeli administration of ‘encouraging violence against Israel’ in the way it has covered Hamas attacks.
The Israeli government has reportedly given the go-ahead for emergency rules that will let it shut down foreign news channels temporarily.
These powers are said to allow it to stop news outlets broadcasting, close their offices, shut down their websites, take equipment, and revoke press accreditation for journalists.
Communications minister Shlomo Karhi is said to have pushed for the new regulations in a bid to target Al Jazeera, according to The Times of Israel.
The clampdown comes at a time of worsening relations between the Israeli government and the BBC. President Isaac Herzog publicly condemned the corporation’s refusal to describe Hamas fighters as terrorists.
In a meeting with Rishi Sunak earlier this week, Mr Herzog said there should be a ‘correction’ issued over BBC coverage, accusing it of a ‘distortion of the facts’.
Tensions were made worse this week when BBC correspondent Jon Donnison said in the aftermath of the al-Ahli hospital explosion that it was ‘hard to see’ what else it could be other than an ‘Israeli air strike’.
Evidence has since emerged indicating that the explosion was caused by Islamic Jihad.
The BBC has subsequently admitted that it was ‘wrong to speculate in this way’.