BBC staff are told not to call Israeli killings 'assassination'

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The Independent Online

In a major surrender to Israeli diplomatic pressure, BBC officials in London have banned their staff in Britain and the Middle East from referring to Israel's policy of murdering its guerrilla opponents as "assassination". BBC reporters have been told that in future they are to use Israel's own euphemism for the murders, calling them "targeted killings".

BBC journalists were astonished that the assignments editor, Malcolm Downing, should have sent out the memorandum to staff, stating that the word "assassinations" "should only be used for high-profile political assassinations". There were, Mr Downing said, "lots of other words for death".

Up to 60 Palestinian activists – and numerous civilians, including two children killed last week – have been gunned down by Israeli death squads or missile-firing Israeli helicopter pilots. The White House has gently chided Israel about these attacks, but already this week the BBC has been using the phrase "targeted attacks" for the policy of murder. The Palestinian killing of Israelis, however, is regularly referred to – accurately – as "murder" or "assassination".

Mr Downing's memorandum suggests that the murder of a leading Israeli – the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, killed by an Israeli extremist – is worthy of the word "assassination" while the killing of Palestinians is not.

The memo apparently says that "assassination" can only be used "sparingly" and with "attribution". The ban resulted from a discussion between Mr Downing and Vin Ray, deputy head of newsgathering at BBC World TV. Israeli diplomats have been lunching with BBC officials and complaining that the corporation's coverage was anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

The Israeli murder campaign is, in fact, far from "targeted". In the first such killings, two middle-aged Palestinian women were killed. After the initial reporting of the incident, the BBC dropped all reference to the female victims.

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