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The BBC 'must be fair to Isis': Head of broadcaster rejects calls to stop using term 'Islamic State'

Lord Hall says using an alternative name for Isis would be 'pejorative' to Isis and insists BBC must preserve its 'impartiality'

Matt Dathan
Friday 03 July 2015 10:27 BST
The BBC said it was reviewing its use of the term 'Islamic State'
The BBC said it was reviewing its use of the term 'Islamic State' (Getty)

The BBC must be fair to Isis in its coverage of the terrorist group, the head of the BBC has said as he rejected calls to drop the use of the term ‘Islamic State’ in reports.

In a response to a letter signed by 120 MPs demanding that the BBC stop using the term on the grounds it gives undue credibility to the Islamic extremists, Lord Hall of Birkenhead warned that using an alternative would be “pejorative”.

But he accepted using the term ‘Islamic State’ on its own could be misleading and insisted the BBC would “redouble our efforts” to use caveats such as “so called Islamic State group”.

The letter from MPs, led by the Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, asked the BBC to refer to the terrorist group as Daesh, an Arab acronym that has "negative connotations".

It was signed by influential figures such as Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond and backed by David Cameron, who earlier this week expressed frustration at the BBC's continued use of the term.

In Lord Hall's response, seen by The Times, he wrote: "The BBC takes a common sense view when deciding how to describe organisations, we take our cue from the organisation's description of itself.

"We have recognised that used on its own the name Islamic State could suggest that such a state exists and such an interpretation is misleading. So we have caveated the name "Islamic State" with words which qualify it eg "so called Islamic State"."

David Cameron branded Isis a 'poisonous death cult' that was 'seducing' young Britons to go and fight for the terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq. (AFP/Getty)

Responding to reports of the letter, Leader of the House Chris Grayling was scathing of the BBC.

"I must say that my view of what impartiality means is different from that of the BBC," he said. "During the second world war, the BBC was a beacon of fact; it was not expected to be impartial about Britain and Germany.

"Today, it should be a beacon of fact; it is not expected to be impartial about threats to the security and safety and to the lives and limbs of the people of this nation."

The Prime Minister, making his own call for the BBC to change its policy earlier this week, branded Isis a “poisonous death cult” that is “seducing” young Britons to go and fight for the terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq.

He urged the broadcaster to refer to the terrorist group as “Isil” – the abbreviation of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The group claimed responsibility for the massacre on a Tunisia beach resort last week that killed 29 British holidaymakers. The gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, was radicalised by Isis, according to his father Hakinm, who said the group had "ruined my son's brain with horrid thoughts and ideas".

The Tunisian government says it has arrested 12 suspects in connection to the shooting of 38 people at a hotel in Sousse.

Seifeddine Rezgui was given the name of 'Abu Yahya al-Qayrawani' by Isis, who have subsequently claimed responsibility for the Tunisia attack (AP)

A BBC spokesman said: "Anyone listening to what we say can be in no doubt as to what kind of organisation this is. We also use the terms 'extremist' and 'fighters' alongside it."

"We call the group by the name it uses itself, and regularly review our approach. We also use additional descriptions to help make it clear we are referring to the group as they refer to themselves, such as ‘so-called Islamic State’.”

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