BBC tells its staff: don’t call Qatada extremist
The BBC has told its journalists not to call Abu Qatada, the al-Qaeda preacher, an “extremist”.
In order to avoid making a “value judgment”, the corporation’s managers have ruled that he can only be described as “radical”.
Journalists were also cautioned against using images suggesting the preacher is overweight.
A judge ruled this week that the Muslim preacher, once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, should be released from a British jail, angering ministers and MPs.
Adding to the row, Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, yesterday insisted that Qatada “has not committed any crime” and said his release has nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights.
A British court has called Qatada a “truly dangerous individual” and even his defence team has suggested he poses a “grave risk” to national security.
Despite that background, BBC journalists were told they should not describe Qatada as an extremist. The guidance was issued at the BBC newsroom’s 9.00am editorial meeting yesterday, chaired by a senior manager, Andrew Roy.
According to notes of the meeting, seen by The Daily Telegraph, journalists were told: “Do not call him an extremist – we must call him a radical. Extremist implies a value judgment.”
The guidance was criticised by experts and MPs. Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, a counter-extremist think tank, accused the BBC of “liberal paralysis” over Islamic extremism, saying journalists must be honest about Qatada’s record. He said: “A radical is someone who is different from the norm. An extremist is someone who promotes extreme views and actions, like killing innocents.”
James Clappison, a Conservative member of the Commons home affairs select committee, said the guidance was unjustifiable. He said: “Given the evidence about this man, it makes you wonder what you have to do for the BBC to call you an extremist.”
BBC staff were also cautioned against using library images suggesting the cleric is overweight, because he has “lost a lot of weight
A BBC spokesman said: “We think very carefully about the language we use. We do not ban words – the notes are a reflection of a live editorial discussion about how to report the latest developments on this story.”
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