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What to call a war

Jerry Timmins | 16:10 UK time, Thursday, 7 June 2007

In our desire to adhere to the BBC's commitment to impartiality, editors here wrestle with language and the meaning of words all the time. This is not out of some misguided desire to be politically correct and not offend anyone, it's driven out of a concern to speak a language that will be properly understood.

World Service logoThe current anniversary of the 6 Day War is a good example. Many in the UK may feel that it is a reasonably objective description of the war between Israel and Egypt in 1967 that lasted about 6 days. In the Arab world though many feel the description of 6 Days War was adopted quickly by Israel to emphasise the sweeping nature of their victory. In contrast, the event was and is described by many Arabs as "The Setback".

To some - both phrases are politically loaded. So in many of our broadcasts we try and avoid both descriptions and often talk of the '67 Arab Israeli War - a phrase that is less loaded and enables us to get in to the detail of what actually happened - and what the causes and consequences of the war are without getting blocked by a label which can act as a stumbling block which prevents them from even engaging with the topic.

It's not a rule. It's an example of the kind of thought that goes on about descriptors here...


  • 1.
  • At 05:49 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • David wrote:

Is this an attempt at irony? Let's get things straight: it was a war that lasted for six days. Ergo, it is known as the Six Day War. A bit like the Gulf War, you see. It's not loaded; it's not a stumbling block, confusing, a barrier or anything else. Why on earth are you bending over backwards to appease a few bitter losers.

Whatever next, the Yom Kippur being renamed the October 1973 War in order not to exclude people that don't understand Hebrew.

Really, you guys are beyond parody sometimes. Don't you have better things to suffer liberal angst over?

  • 2.
  • At 08:46 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

It seems to me that when BBC's reporters get a hold of a story, the truth suffers a setback. I remember a few skirmishs which were similarly characterized. Let's see there was World setback I, World setback II, the Cold setback (a setback only for Russia from which it appears to be recovering right now) and there was the hundred years setback, there was the American Revolutionary setback (Britain along with its new found European allies is trying to reverse that setback and regain control of its North American colonies) and then there was the setback in the Falklands (only for the Argentines though) and the Boer setback. Someone chronicled that the human race has experienced around 40,000 setbacks. Now aren't you happy a real war never broke out? I can't imagine what might happen if one did. Someone might actually get killed.

  • 3.
  • At 09:55 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Hugh Pettit wrote:

Is it not a problem that while all your viewers, listeners and readers will understand what you mean by the Six Day War the "67 Arab Israeli War" is likely to leave at least some confused? Shouldn't clarity come first?

  • 4.
  • At 10:06 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Daniel Wright wrote:

I would suggest you look at the small words used in bbc news broadcasts to understand where corporate mentality narrows the bbc's focus on history in the making.
The odd word given when a report is being summed up giving a factual explanation a twist of opinion. The exhuberant gesturings and smiles of broadcasters possibly aimed at entertaining us, but showing attitudes which one would mistake in saying are the attitudes we all share.
For what are credentials when they're presented in a plastic pouch?
Perhaps the world service can give the TV service some lessons...

  • 5.
  • At 10:49 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

"The Six Day War" is the generally accepted term in most of the world, and would be recognised in the Arab world. Should we rename World War 2 because the Russian's know it as "The Great Patriotic War"? Or should we rename it to something completely to make the German's and Japanese feel better? Or should we extend its remit to include the massive war in China?

Or, how about we just stick to the accepted norms... A Russian might feel a bit out of joint if you called the great patriotic war "World War 2", but then he'd know what you were on about, just as we know what he's on about in reverse.

You could spend all day trying to keep people happy... To be honest if you said the "1967 Arab-Israeli War" to me then I'd have to think a bit about which it was, there having been a few. Say "The Six Day War" and kaboom, everyone knows which one.

  • 6.
  • At 10:56 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Jim-UK wrote:

"it's driven out of a concern to speak a language that will be properly understood."

Then you should refer to it as the "6 day war" like the rest of us and not make up a new name for it. This is as silly as your refusal to call people who blow up women and children on buses "Terrorists", don't you think these people are way beyond being "Militants"?

You can deny the political correctness and left wing lunacy till the cows come home but until that's reflected in your output you won't be taken seriously.

  • 7.
  • At 12:23 AM on 08 Jun 2007,
  • insertname wrote:

"6 day war" describes fact. "The setback" describes opinion.

  • 8.
  • At 10:17 AM on 08 Jun 2007,
  • Jonathan S wrote:

This is very admirable of the BBC to strive to be so "balanced". Perhaps then they could explain why they use the term "occupied territories" all the time when the term "disputed territories" is used and preferred by many Israelis? Or is it the case that the BBC only aims for a balanced approach when it is the Arab world that is not happy with a term being used?

It is such careful consideration and thought that makes the BBC great and the most respected news organization the world.

I feel that the BBC more closely represents the sentiments of the British people and its values than any politicians or government.

Lets call for regime change! Hehe Just kidding.

  • 10.
  • At 01:06 PM on 09 Jun 2007,
  • Heli-Skier wrote:

Hey guys - the world is in much better shape than I thought if this debate is a burning question at BBC-HQ.

Please tell us all what is "politically loaded" by describing a war that lasted 6 days as "the 6 day war".

Or is this a spoof ?

  • 11.
  • At 08:33 PM on 09 Jun 2007,
  • deegee wrote:

If the BBC had really done its homework they would know the war took seven (7) days. Mount Hermon was conquered on the 7th. The Hundred Years' War took 116 years from 1337 to 1453. The Seven Years' War (1754 and 1756–1763) arguably took eight (8) years although the North American component took nine (9) years and the Indian Wars took fifteen (15). The Second Hundred Years' War lasted from 1689 to 1815 i.e 126 years. Despite the inaccuracies no one has any doubt which wars are being referred to.

If the BBC returned to reporting the news instead of manipulating language we would all be better informed.

  • 12.
  • At 11:48 AM on 11 Jun 2007,
  • Jonathan H wrote:

I trust then that in future BBC reports Judea and Samaria will be used in addition to the 'West Bank'. This of course will be in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 181 if you're looking for an international seal of approval.

  • 13.
  • At 10:57 PM on 11 Jun 2007,
  • bonas50 wrote:

I would think the dictionary explanation might be the best. " Armed Conflict".

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