- 13 Oct 06, 03:51 PM
It may not immediately look like it, but the style guide on Israeli/Palestinian coverage which we're publishing on the website for the first time today is the fruit of hours and hours of hard work by some of the BBC's most experienced Middle East specialists.
The aim is not to be prescriptive, but to give colleagues who can't reasonably be expected to follow every twist and turn of the conflict some suggestions to deal with the more contentious topics.
In many cases, it’s about being careful not to adopt, even inadvertently, the language of one side or the other, which may give an impression of bias.
So, for example, we recommend using the term "West Bank Barrier" for the system of fences, walls, ditches and barbed wire which Israel is currently building. The official Israeli term is "Security Fence", the Palestinians call it an "Apartheid Wall". Each has their point - but we believe this is the clearest generic term for our audiences. Individual reporters standing in front of a particular section can, of course, still refer to a "fence" or "wall" behind them.
Sometimes good journalism requires that we take a position on an issue - even when the facts themselves are under dispute. The civilian settlements which Israel has built on land it occupied in the 1967 Arab/Israeli war are illegal under international law. That is the position of the UN Security Council, the British government and the Geneva Convention. So it is right that we make that clear in this guide. Israel disputes this and has argued the case legally - and vociferously - on numerous occasions. That's also important and we recommend that where space allows our language should reflect the Israeli objection as well.
Palestinians and their supporters sometimes take us to task for using the term "suicide bombing" to describe what they view as a "martyrdom attack". Again, we feel it's right to take a position and that clear, simple, accurate language is best. In America, some news organisations describe them as "homicide attacks", a phrase we have discussed and rejected.
Although initially a little sceptical, the more I think about it, the happier I am that we are publishing this guide to the public. BBC journalists, whether they are in Israel, the Palestinian Territories or London, put an enormous amount of thought and effort into trying to get these things right. And if this shows just a glimpse of that to the people we are reporting to, it may prove a very useful exercise.
Simon Wilson is the BBC's Washington Bureau Editor