CBC and Terror

I watched an interesting interview on CBC yesterday with Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean author and left-wing activist that documented Pinochet’s rise to power. This post, however, is not an analysis of that history or an opinion on that period. Rather, I wanted to point out an inconsistency of the CBC and its use of the word “terror”.

Here is a clip of CBC journalist Brian Stewart describing the rise of Pinochet:

Stewart describes the “Pinochet terror” as a “homicidal terror”.

Of course, CBC has struggled with its designation of events as “terror” (here the root of the word “terrorism”), most notably with its labeling of “militancy” or “insurgence” when referring to jihadism either against the American forces in Iraq, cafe patrons in Jaffa or club patrons in Bali, or the innocents in the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on 9/11/2001.

CBC has published an internal memo on this topic which is reproduced here:

‘Terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’: Exercise extreme caution before using either word. Avoid labelling any specific bombing or other assault as a “terrorist act” unless it’s attributed (in a TV or Radio clip, or in a direct quote on the Web). For instance, we should refer to the deadly blast at that nightclub in Bali in October 2002 as an “attack,” not as a “terrorist attack.” The same applies to the Madrid train attacks in March 2004, the London bombings in July 2005 and the attacks against the United States in 2001, which the CBC prefers to call “the Sept. 11 attacks” or some similar expression. (The BBC, Reuters and many others follow similar policies.)

Terrorism generally implies attacks against unarmed civilians for political, religious or some other ideological reason. But it’s a highly controversial term that can leave journalists taking sides in a conflict.


The guiding principle should be that we don’t judge specific acts as “terrorism” or people as “terrorists.” Such labels must be attributed.

As CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman has pointed out: “Our preference is to describe the act or individual, and let the viewer or listener or political representatives make their own judgment.”

As a dispassionate observer and journalist following CBC’s policy, maybe Stewart should have refrained from labeling Pinochet’s regime, or the CBC should not be so selective in its application of the word terror to events or viewers may see a subjective policy at the state-run broadcaster.

Ariel Dorfman, who did make for an interesting interview, did draw a direct parallel between the “terror” of Pinochet’s coup on 9/11/1973 and the WTC and Pentagon attacks on 9/11/2001. However, he is the invited guest and not subject to the editorial direction of the CBC.

Perhaps it is a distrust of the United States that causes this inconsistency of the use of the word terror by journalists and editors at the CBC. After all, it was the United States who helped in Pinochet’s rise to power (according to Kissinger). Yet, when Islamic terror strikes the US or Israel, the CBC is “careful” to label it an “attack”. Is it caution in not using a politically loaded word with respect to current events or is it a form of Western guilt that stems from a view held on the left that the current perpetrators of “terror” militancy are acting out as victims of American “imperialism”? So now, why use “terror” to describe Pinochet instead of “militancy”? There ought to be a consistency in describing both. However, America was on different sides of both events. Could this explain the inconsistency in labeling “terror”?

Consider this clip which describes optimism regarding the evolution of the left and the quick correction by Stewart on the word neo-liberal, which is called “neo-conservative up here”.

What are CBC’s views with respect to neo-liberalism “neo-conservatism” (for our viewers at home keeping score)? The word neo-conservatism is thrown around a lot these days to describe “privatization” agendas, “imperialism” and nation-building, or even to describe a program where the government hands out $100 monthly cheques to parents to raise their children! Language can affect our perceptions of people, political platforms and events, especially when it comes filtered through the media, especially when the words used are both subjective and selective. Therefore I ask, is the word “terror” similarly applied selectively depending on world view?

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