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When does Reuters use the word terrorist or terrorism?
We are often asked what our policy is on using these terms. One recent example came in a comment on the Editor-in-Chief’s blog. How we describe acts of violence and those who perpetrate them is deeply sensitive. Readers feel very strongly but very differently about how certain groups or individuals should be identified. It is a subject on which global media organisations like our own tread carefully.
The best explanation of our policy is the guidance we give to our journalists in the Reuters handbook. All Reuters reporters, whatever their nationality, personal beliefs or politics, abide by these guidelines.
Here they are:
Terrorism We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. Terrorism and terrorist must be retained when quoting someone in direct speech. When quoting someone in indirect speech, care must be taken with sentence structure to ensure it is entirely clear that they are the sources words and not a Reuters label. Terrorism and terrorist should not be used as single words in inverted commas (e.g. terrorist) or preceded by so-called (e.g. a so-called terrorist attack) since that can be taken to imply that Reuters is making a value judgment. Use a fuller quote if necessary. Terror as in terror attack or terror cell should be avoided on stylistic grounds.
This is part of a wider and long-standing policy of avoiding the use of emotive terms. Reuters does not label or characterise the subjects of news stories. We aim to report objectively their actions, identity and background. We aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber”, or “bombing”, hijacker or hijacking, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc. It is particularly important not to make unattributed use of the words terrorism and terrorist in national and territorial conflicts and to avoid using those terms in indirect speech in such a context.
Sean Maguire is acting Editor, Politics and General News