The BBC’s Dearth of Girth

The BBC made a heckuva (non) judgment call on a preacher referred to as Al-Qaida’s spiritual leader in Europe. The Beeb instructed its staff not to refer to Omar Othman (better known as Abu Qatada) as an “extremist.”

But “radical” is still okay.

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.” . . .

What’s the difference?

I’d say an extremist is someone liable to to use extreme methods to get his point across — including violence.

A radical connotes someone whose views are beyond the fringes, but wouldn’t necessarily use extreme methods to achieve his goals.

But judge for yourself.

  1. Abu Qatada’s wanted on terror charges in the US, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
  2. In 2000, Jordan sentenced  him in absentia to life imprisonment for his role in plot to bomb tourists.
  3. Court testimony has described Qatada as the spiritual leader of Al-Qaida in Europe, the Armed Islamic Group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, and the Tunisian Combat Group.
  4. Entered the UK on a forged UAE passport.
  5. After the 9/11 attacks, authorities searching the apartment of Mohammed Atta found numerous audiotapes of Qatada’s sermons.

British authorities are trying to deport him back to Jordan before the London Olympics begin.

The Beeb’s instructions don’t end with the radical vs. extremist ruling. It gets richer:

BBC staff were also cautioned against using library images suggesting the cleric is overweight, because he has “lost a lot of weight”.

“Library images” are simply archived photos accumulated over the years. They’re used when a paper quickly needs a visual to accompany a story. Editors naturally prefer more recent archived images — they’re often just head shots anyway.

This isn’t like Beyonce’s post-baby curves, so how do we understand the Beeb’s obsession with Qatada’s dearth of girth?

Qatada’s been behind bars for awhile. Implying that he’s lost weight could be a subtle way of embarrassing the police. I wouldn’t put it past the Beeb. Surely one of their 2,000 managers will have something to say.