Guidelines

Section 11: War, Terror and Emergencies

Accuracy and Impartiality

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  1. User Generated Content
  2. Use of Language
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11.4.1

When reporting war, and in the early stages of covering national and international emergencies (including acts of terror, disasters and major accidents), it is particularly important to give the source of information and material from third parties, particularly when there are conflicting claims.  First estimates of casualty figures often turn out to be inaccurate.  If different sources give different estimates we should either report the range or go for the source which carries the greatest authority and attribute the estimate accordingly. 

We should normally say if our reports are censored or monitored or if we withhold information, and explain, wherever possible, the rules under which we are operating.

11.4.2

When reporting demonstrations, disturbances and similar events, we should treat estimates of involvement with due scepticism, report wide disparities and name the sources of the figures.  We aim to offer a comprehensive and impartial view of events.  When it is difficult for reporters located on one side of a confrontation to form a clear overall view, their material should be put into a wider context for broadcast.

(See Section 3 Accuracy: 3.1 and 3.4.11 - 3.4.12)

11.4.3

In a UK civil emergency, we aim to deliver essential information in the interests of public safety across all of our services.  We work with the relevant authorities to identify the kind of major incidents requiring a special response.  However, we must make the appropriate editorial judgements to ensure accuracy and independence.

(See Section 11 War, Terror and Emergencies: 11.4.18)

User Generated Content

11.4.4

In times of conflict, there are special sensitivities for example about the security of operational military plans, avoiding naming casualties until next of kin have been informed, and handling unsubstantiated rumours.  This applies particularly to user generated content when users normally expect their material to be published as soon as it is sent to us.

At such times, we may publish additional guidelines to the effect that:

  • we will concentrate comment and debate about the conflict in a limited number of spaces, with additional hosting and moderation, to maintain a full debate
  • we will be prepared to switch to pre-moderation if necessary
  • we may ask for claims or statements by third parties to be attributed so that their status becomes easier for our users to evaluate
  • we may link from such statements to relevant stories written by the BBC News site so that users can more easily compare them.

(See Section 11 War, Terror and Emergencies: 11.4.7 and Section 7 Privacy: 7.4.38 - 7.4.44)

(See Guidance: User Contributions in News Output and Moderation, Hosting, Escalation and User Management)

Use of Language

11.4.5

We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly.  Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.  We try to avoid the use of the term "terrorist" without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.

The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding.  We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened.  We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as "bomber", "attacker", "gunman", "kidnapper", "insurgent", and "militant".  We should not adopt other people's language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom. 

11.4.6

For similar reasons, it is also usually inappropriate to use, without attribution, terms such as "liberate", "court martial" or "execute" in the absence of a clear judicial process.

(See Guidance: Language when Reporting Terrorism)

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