Email from Al Jazeera English Bans Staff from Using Terms ‘Terrorist,’ ‘Militant,’ ‘Islamist’

On Tuesday afternoon, Brendan Bordelon of National Review Online (NRO) reported on the latest leaked email from Al Jazeera English that showed executive Carlos van Meek telling employees not to sure the terms “extremist,” “Islamist,” “militant,” and “terrorist” in their news coverage to “avoid characterizing people.”

Van Meek’s email came following a deadly shooting earlier in the day at a hotel in Libya that killed at least eight (including one American). Writing to the outlet’s New York and Washington newsrooms, van Meek felt that it was pertinent to “bring to your attention some key words that have a tendency of tripping us up” considering “[o]ne person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”

Bordelon summarized the email as such:

The word “extremist” was labeled off-limits. “Avoid characterizing people,” van Meek said. “Often their actions do the work for the viewer.”

“Do not use,” van Meek’s said of the term “Islamist.” He described it as “a simplistic label.”

According to van Meek’s instructions, Al Jazeera English employees are not to use the Arabic term “jihad.”

“Strictly speaking, jihad means an inner spiritual struggle, not a holy war,” he said. “It is not by tradition a negative term. It also means the struggle to defend Islam against things challenging it.”

Instead of “terrorists,” van Meek told his employees to use the terms “fighters” and “militants” — but only in certain contexts. “For example, we can use the term [militant] to describe Norwegian mass-killer Andres Behring Breivik or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh,” he wrote.

Later, Bordelon succinctly pointed out that, despite a push by the Qatar-based news group to be seen as more appealing to Westerners: “[I]nternal pushback on the network’s Hebdo coverage and continuing leaks of company emails illustrate persistent newsroom tension between Al Jazeera’s roots in Doha and the media outlet’s expansion into the United States.”

In addition to this story, Bordelon wrote about leaked internal emails that National Review Online obtained from the moments after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris that showed executives blasting the Western support for freedom of speech because of the magazine’s history of mocking Islam.

The full text of the leaked Al Jazeera email by van Meek and obtained by NRO can be found below (emphasis his):

From: Carlos Van Meek 
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 10:06 AM
To: AJE-Newsdesk; AJE-Output; AJE-DC-Newsroom
Subject: Terrorists, Militants, Fighters and then some… 
 
All: We manage our words carefully around here. So I’d like to bring to your attention some key words that have a tendency of tripping us up. This is straight out of our Style Guide. All media outlets have one of those. So do we. If you’d like to amend, change, tweak.. pls write to Dan Hawaleshka direct who is compiling the updates to the Style Guide and they will be considered based on merit. No mass replies to this email, pls. 
 
 
EXTREMIST – Do not use. Avoid characterizing people. Often their actions do the work for the viewer. Could write ‘violent group’ if we’re reporting on Boko Haram agreeing to negotiate with the government. In other words, reporting on a violent group that’s in the news for a non-violent reason.
 
TERRORISM/TERRORISTS – One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. We will not use these terms unless attributed to a source/person.
 
ISLAMIST – Do not use. We will continue to describe groups and individuals, by talking about their previous actions and current aims to give viewers the context they require, rather than use a simplistic label.

NOTE: Naturally many of our guests will use the word Islamist in the course of their answers. It is absolutely fine to include these answers in our output. There is no blanket ban on the word.
JIHAD – Do not use the Arabic term. Strictly speaking, jihad means an inner spiritual struggle, not a holy war. It is not by tradition a negative term. It also means the struggle to defend Islam against things challenging it. Again, an Arabic term that we do not use.
FIGHTERS – We do not use words such as militants, radicals, insurgents. We will stick with fighters. However, these terms are allowed when quoting other people using them. 
 
MILITANT – We can use this term to describe individuals who favour confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause. For example, we can use the term to describe Norwegian mass-killer Andres Behring Breivik or Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. But please note: we will not use it to describe a group of people, as in ‘militants’ or ‘militant groups’ etc.

Censorship Libya Middle East Labeling War on Terrorism Islam Al Jazeera National Review
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