An open letter to the BBC on their use of the word ‘militant’

Posted on November 17, 2012 by | 22 Comments

Dear BBC,

I am writing to complain about you coverage of the ongoing violence in Israel/Palestine. I am sure that you get many such complaints. Much of this, I suspect, focuses on the balance of your reporting. I am not going to do that. Whilst my impression is that you seem much more likely to cover injury of Israelis than of Palestinians, it would require some time and a comprehensive study for me to establish if my impression was an accurate one.

Instead, I would like to focus on your use of one word: militant. It is a word which you seem to use often in your coverage. It is a word which implies aggression, combined with a radical political stance.

A typical use of the word is found here:

“Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets at Israeli cities: by Thursday night, Hamas said it had fired more than 350 rockets from Gaza, of which Israel said 130 had been intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system.”

So, in this case, it is clear that when you refer to ‘militants’, you mean Hamas.

Hamas is the government of the Gaza strip. They are the government because they were elected on a strong security platform, promising to protect their people against an invading power – even if that meant deploying arms to do so. So when you call these people “militants”, you are making an active choice to refer to them as such, rather than by their official title “the government”.

The Israeli government is led by Likud – as it has been for the majority of the time since the late 1970s. They too were elected by their people on a strong security platform – more than happy to deploy arms against Palestinian people. Over the years, the Israeli government has breached 33 UN Security council resolutions.

Yet whilst one hawkish, over-violent government is referred to consistently as ‘the administration’, or ‘the government’, the other is referred to as ‘militants’. Perhaps you could point me to the piece of BBC policy which defines when an elected government is ‘militant’ and when it is ‘a government’? Clearly it isn’t when they use violence. Clearly it isn’t when they breach international law.


Now, were I a citizen of either country, I like to think I would have voted for parties who were less hawkish than either. Were Britain under siege – as Gaza is – were our country surrounded by a foreign power who had already taken most of our land, I like to think that I would remain relatively pacifist. But I am certain that it is not those who took up arms who would be seen as radicals, as militants. I am certain that it is me who would be so labelled. I know this because it is what history tells us.

There is only one analogy we can draw on in our recent national history in order to answer the question “how would the people of Britain behave if we faced the threat of having our land taken from us?”. It is a somewhat hackney comparison, and it’s summed up in this speech, with which I suspect you are familiar:

I assume that when we gave this man an official state funeral, the BBC described him as a prominent militant?

yours sincerely,

Adam Ramsay

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22 Responses to “An open letter to the BBC on their use of the word ‘militant’”

  1. SebNo Gravatar
    November 17th, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    “Whilst my impression is that you seem much more likely to cover injury of Israelis than of Palestinians, it would require some time and a comprehensive study for me to establish if my impression was an accurate one.”

    It is an accurate one, and here’s the study:

  2. RBNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    Hi Adam,

    Sorry, but I don’t think this is either fair or correct. The BBC gets it from both sides with allegations of bias on this issue in particular – which seems to me to be an indication that they are getting it about right. It has a difficult job to do, which it seems to me it does well.

    For example, much of the media refer to Hamas’ military wing, and the other groups firing rockets into Israel, as ‘terrorists’. The UK, EU, US etc all consider them terrorist organisations, so this isn’t just a pro-Israeli position. However ‘terrorist’ is a value judgement, and Thatcher’s use of the word to describe Mandela is a good case study in why we should avoid this word in news reporting.

    So ‘militants’ is a better alternative to ‘terrorists’. So, should they be using the term ‘the government’ for the those firing rockets into Israeli towns? No. Hamas’ military wing isn’t the state army of Gaza, it’s what it says on the tin – the military wing of a political party. It acts independently of the political wing of Hamas and doesn’t take orders from the party top brass. Plus there are other ‘militant’ organisations also involved alongside Hamas, and they aren’t the government either. So ‘militants’ will do me. ‘The government’ simply wouldn’t be accurate. So in reality, you are urging the BBC to report this issue inaccurately. Not so well played.

    The comparison with WWII is pretty clumsy as well. I’m no supporter of Israel, but Hamas’ armed wing are firing rockets into civillian areas here, in order to kill non-combatants, also known as innocent civillians. So getting all misty-eyed with the Churchill comparison seems completely wrong-headed.

    I’d suggest trying to reach a more thorough understanding of the situation before filling the BBC postbag with more angry letters.

  3. MarkNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 10:27 am

    RB – you say “Hamas’ armed wing are firing rockets into civillian areas here, in order to to kill non-combatants, also known as innocent civillians. So getting all misty-eyed with the Churchill comparison seems completely wrong-headed”

    Churchill sanctioned the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden, This burnt to a cinder fifteen square miles of the city centre and and killed tens of thousands of non-combatants, also known as innocent civilians. The factories in the suburbs weren’t bombed – this was terror bombing, and a war crime. Seems a fair comparison for me.

  4. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    RB –

    on the first point, I disagree, though I accept there are more complexities than I outline above. Who is the Palestinian army? The Palestinian police? The presidential guard? These groups are politically loyal to Fatah, and, as far as I understand it, they only now have any authority within the West Bank. In this case, who are the army of the Gaza strip? If we have been willing, and we have, to accept the military forces politically loyal to Fatah as the army of Palestine in the past, then why would we refuse to accept those forces loyal to Hamas as such, other than just because we don’t like Hamas?

    On the second, Churchill not only agreed to the fire bombing of Dresden, he initialted many acts which killed huge numbers of civilians. More to the point, perhaps, he is clear in this speech that he is willing to do whatever it takes to defend Britain. DO you really believe he wouldn’t be willing to kill civilians?

  5. Jock BargeNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 11:09 am

    RB; this is only anaecdote, but I have 2 friends who’ve worked in the call centre that handles the BBC’s complaints. They report that there’s a steady general background hum of complaints about the corporation’s pro-palestinian bias, which rises to around a third of the calls they take when the issue is prominent in the news. Apparently the wording of the complaints is often so similar that it’s pretty clearly a coordinated campaign.
    When you put that together with Greg Philo’s research with the Glasgow Media Group I’d say it becomes hard to argue that the corporation is in any way impartial.
    Besides which, the mid point of an argument doesn’t necessarily correspond to how things are – climate change doesn’t get any less real for all Exxon fund studies that undermine it – and there’s not much point in a news agency that only ever tells you what it thinks you want to hear.

  6. RBNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

    Adam – the answer is, of course, that there isn’t currently a Palestinian army, just as there isn’t currently a Palestinian state. That’s the point. On the very specific point you’ve chosen to make – the use of the word ‘militants’, your alternative proposal of ‘government forces’ makes matters less clear, not more so, by implying that the fighters are under government control when they are not. It’s probably also likely to confuse people into thinking that Gaza is a normal state with a normal government and a normal standing army. ‘Militants’ is a perfectly appropriate word to use here, given one of its meaning is ‘someone engaged in warfare’.
    Regarding the WWII comparison, I think you’re being disingenuous. The point you were trying to make, I think, was a general comparison between Hamas’ approach to defending Gaza and Churchill’s approach to defending the UK – not a comparison between Hamas’ approach and the firebombing of Dresden, or other events in which the Allies killed civilians. Given WWII is generally regarded as a just war (despite the firebombing of Dresden, and other horrors), the implication seems to be that Hamas’ approach is just, and that they are simply defending their territory. If that’s not what you are implying, please be clearer.
    Hamas’ approach isn’t just. All Hamas’ armed wing are doing is firing rockets into Israeli towns, with the aim of killing civilians. The only legitimate response to this is to condemn it, something Adam has failed to do. (It’s not just wrong, it’s counterproductive… the bombing just gives Netanyahu the pretext he needs for disproportionate violence and ‘looking strong’ in the run-up to the election).

  7. StevenNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

    For three years previous to Dresden the Germans had been exterminating jews, russian POWs (3,000,000 of these), gays, communists, the mentally ill and anyone they didn’t like the look of at a truly staggerring daily rate.

    Unfortunately when you embark on that kind of journey, Dresden is the sort of thing that might happen in return. We had to win. We had to beat fascism and national socialism and anything that was done to bring that about as quickly as possible – whether it had that effect or not – is acceptable to me. Remember that Auschwitz was only liberated a fortnight before Dresden and the Russians initially thought that as many as 4,000,000 jews may have been exterminated there (later revised to 1,100,000)and the Battle of the Bulge ending in January ’45 indicated that the war might be far from over.

    Every single allied/Russian etc serviceman who either fought and died or fought and survived is the reason we are free today and there are still Jewish people thriving all over the globe. And the reason you can write to the BBC expressing your anger.

  8. Rob BrookesNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

    >>For three years previous to Dresden the Germans had been exterminating jews, russian POWs (3,000,000 of these), gays, communists, the mentally ill and anyone they didn’t like the look of at a truly staggerring daily rate<>For three years previous to Dresden the Germans had been exterminating jews, russian POWs (3,000,000 of these), gays, communists, the mentally ill and anyone they didn’t like the look of at a truly staggerring daily rate<<

  9. Rob BrookesNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    Not sure what happened to my last post, What I meant to say was that >>>>For three years previous to Dresden the Germans had been exterminating jews, russian POWs (3,000,000 of these), gays, communists, the mentally ill and anyone they didn’t like the look of at a truly staggerring daily rate<
    is completely off the point. Adam asked" how would the people of Britain behave if we faced the threat of having our land taken from us?”
    Is it militant to try to harm the people who have invaded and made you stateless and driven into say the Liverpool area and East Anglia from all over England with even that small part of your original homeland being whittled away. Is it not understandable that people who have had friends, children or relatives killed,paralysed or maimed by the actions of Israeli's and who are being deliberately starved not getting very angry and hitting out however irrationally as those who are causing their suffering.
    I do not think we should condemn Hamas without first understanding the suffering of the people. We can condemn and understand. We should know what their goal is for the firing of the rockets? Has anyone ever heard an in depth discussion with a Hamas leader by the BBC as to what their resistance tactics are and why?
    I don't believe the deliberate firing of rockets onto an area populated with a mixture of civilians and conscripts is as murderous as shelling from the sea a built up area containing mostly civilians, some/many of whom may choose to be in a resistance if possible. I know I would rather risk the rockets.
    But the solution for the whole situation is clearly in the hands of the Israeli's or the US. They could give back unilaterally the Palestinians a viable state of the West Bank linked to Gaza by a strip of land with all the rights that go with statehood. The UN could then keep the peace. Alternatively the whole area could become a greater Israel with equal rights for all.
    The BBC as with climate change, does not give a honest picture of the situation. I mostly agree with
    "" rather than providing information to its global audience which would make clear that Israel is deploying a vast arsenal of high tech armory against Gaza’s civilian population, to which the response is crude rockets, the BBC’s coverage of the past days has portrayed the stateless Palestinians as vicious aggressors against an exhausted Israel.""
    There is a demo at
    for those in London

  10. StevenNo Gravatar
    November 18th, 2012 @ 7:56 pm

    In July 2012, Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, denounced a visit by Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to the Auschwitz death camp, saying it was “unjustified” and “unhelpful” and only served the “Zionist occupation” while coming “at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy”. He also called the Holocaust an “alleged tragedy” and “exaggerated.

    And there are plenty more where that came from. They are lunatic jew-haters and they don’t even try and hide it. The holocaust is only an alleged tragedy? Must be quite difficult to me fucknuts like that halfway…

  11. Michael BurkeNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    The BBC are about as balanced on this subject as a see-saw is, with a skinny 5 year old on one side and an obese pensioner on the other.

  12. StephenNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    Hello Steven,

    Have a little read of Gilad Sharon’s touching piece in the Jerusalem Post yesterday where he calls for the wiping out of Gaza:

    “The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas.”

    “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too”

    Must be quite difficult to meet fucknuts like that halfway…….

  13. Adam RamsayNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    Steven: I don’t see how the fact that they are fucknuts undermines any of the points I make above. There are many governments of fucknuts the world over. We still call them governments. I never said I like Hamas.

  14. SamNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

    I am of Palestinian descent so naturally a bit bias. I agree with the opening letter, I feel there is a pro Israel slant on the reporting, with 3 Israeli citizens deaths far wider reported than the amount of innocent Palestinians killed, which are usually mentioned in passing during a ‘tensions escalate’ type story. If any other nation killed the amount of innocent people whilst breaking in sanctions for fun it would be front page news.

    However this should not excuse the murder and indiscriminate firing of missiles. But despite all the religious and political under tones to the conflict, the real cause is the divide in living standards between the 2 populations. History has taught us (with Irish conflicts as recent lesson) that if people are content, happy and feel safe and secure they are very unlikely to participate in armed action (with the exception of the nutters which exist in every culture). Feelings will remain but and the end of the day people just want to be content.

    The real crime is the daily blockade, control and imprisonment of the Palestinian people. They are treated as lesser citizens than the Israelis and this shows in the BBC news reports.

    Normal Palestinian people need a nation, an economy and a chance.

    The radicals will soon dissapear when this happens. Unfortunately the Israeli policy further increases the likely hood of a conflict only they can win and the press report it as self defence.

  15. LynneNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

    The Holocaust was a tragedy on a major scale however this only makes Israel’s persecution of Palestine even more heinous.
    Israel uses disproportionate force against Palestine who have been squeezed into a tiny territory and then uses this as an excuse for the Palestinian casualties i.e. Hamas HQ being based in a hospital and Missile launchers in private homes. This is supposed to be a legitimate reason for killing innocent civilians including children. Even if this were accurate,any compassionate person would despise this action.
    The Holocaust is not a reason to perpetuate inhumanity,have they learn’t nothing ?

  16. mywallNo Gravatar
    November 19th, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

    The situation with civilians gets a bit complicated when you consider that those people willingly and knowingly moved into and invasion. As a brit, I wouldn’t reasonably expect to be able to move into Afghanistan and not be in danger.
    The firing of rockets out of Gaza is a resistance to an aggressive expansionist regime that has been staging an invasion for 60 odd years. Yes, it’s a response with poor accuracy and shitty effectiveness but to claim that the Gazan side is an aggressor here is to simply lie. I doubt that there can be any peace in the region until the occupation ends.

  17. deanNo Gravatar
    November 20th, 2012 @ 1:35 am

    Wake up guys your arguing over nothing. Israel shouldn’t even exist, they ROBBED that land from the Palestinians and created a state from thin air! Of course Hamas will bomb them of course Palestinians will fight till the end! Why can people not see?! If the Jews are given an automatic right to kill and control a piece of land which was never theirs then the Palestinians should be given equal rights to fight back. The catastrophe must end, the Palestinians should get back every inch of their land back.

  18. sukhinderNo Gravatar
    November 20th, 2012 @ 1:45 am

    The Israelis have locked Gaza, bombed Gaza, closed supplies to Gaza, and you white boys sitting at home sipping on tea have the nerve to say that Gaza can’t bomb israel?! If there ever was a valid reason to kill then this is it. The Israelis took their land and now you want a diplomatic solution? Hamas was democratically elected, who are you to say that the right or wrong government was elected?! When you are oppressed believe me you will want to kill your oppressors .you white folks won’t understand, how it feels when your loved ones are killed and you can’t get an explanation. Angry it makes you. Oh I remember… Hillsborough.. times that by a million. Now u have Gaza

  19. Dumb WhiteyNo Gravatar
    November 21st, 2012 @ 12:02 am

    mmm… doesn’t take long for the lunatic fringe to surface:

    “you white folks won’t understand, how it feels when your loved ones are killed and you can’t get an explanation. Angry it makes you.”

    Hey Retard-Yoda, pesky the jews are, better away with them we do and exist no more will Israel?

    dozy cnut you are, yes?

  20. Dumb Whitey you're fab!No Gravatar
    November 22nd, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

    There is a civil war in Syria at the moment where HUNDREDS have been killed and 2.5 million people have been displaced. Do you care about that? No of course not! Why? Because it doesn’t involve Jews. Very scary what’s going on in the world today. Muslims are being killed left right and centre by their own regimes and nobody flicks an eye lid but when the Jews are involved it becomes a witch hunt. It’s not Israel that are destroying Gaza, it’s unfortunately this ‘government’ they have democratically elected. The ‘government’ that uses women and children as human shields. Our government allows arabs in our knesset. It allows Arab women to vote. There are equal rights for both arab women and men. If you are an arab speaking against the hamas ‘government’ you’d probably be tied to a motorbike with your lifeless body on show for the whole city to see as they did with the ‘spies’ just this week. In Israel Jews are welcome to give their point of view. We are the only thriving democracy in the middle east. By the way, it’s very interesting how Yasser Arafat died a billionaire whilst his people were left starving and Hamas have enough money for arms but are complaining they have no medical resources. Once they get their priorities straight and starting loving their children more than they hate the Jews then maybe just maybe there will finally be peace.

  21. Dumb Whitey you're fab!No Gravatar
    November 22nd, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

    By the way, Hamas see their idol as Osama Bin Laden so I think the word militant is a little too soft for them. Terrorists would be more apt….

    When you get a government who align themselves with a crazed lunatic like Osama Bin Laden, they are terrorists end of. These are the same people who spit on poppies, who denounce British soldiers and curse at their parades. They are all linked. One in the same. Stop being so naive and open your eyes.

  22. circus2gazaNo Gravatar
    December 4th, 2012 @ 8:21 pm

    36 Palestinian children (out of 169 adults compared to 3 Israelis) killed in recent bombardment of Gaza were terrorists? the most crowded country on earth, one of the most traumatised child populations, donkeys still used widely to transport goods, no army, an oppressive corrupt state, a beligerant bulying neighbour whose soldiers will take sniper pot-shots into civilian areas just because they are bored. yes that happened on the second day we were there no -one was surprised it happens all the time. yet, while glued to the BBC radio I hear so much emotional coverage about the anxieties of the Israeli’s in range of the Gazan pea-shooters – lethal and immoral yes but that is what they are compared to the USA funded might of Israel’s army. I have heard only one report that did justice to the absolute terror experienced by families in Gaza- late night on world service. The bias is so obvious you have to question the motives of those who deny it. Go there and see for yourself the desperate situation there. No wonder there’s nutters who’ll do anything to attack that which has traumatised their people. Search ‘samouni family’. their story says it all. we did a street show for them. lovely lively kids, many injuries. Go there.