Is it journalistically-sound to avoid the use of certain phrases, like Islamic terrorist and Muslim Fundamentalist?
We think it is sometimes, and here is why: a terrorist is a terrorist. The terrorist may belong to a particular religion, but if in a news report, one adds Islamic/Christian/Hindu/Jewish, it creates the perception of a bias.
As for avoiding the phrase Muslim fundamentalist, every religion is based on some ‘fundamentals’, be it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. The use of such an expression in the case of Muslims adds to existing misgivings in the Islamic world of an anti-Muslim sentiment in the Western media. Similarly, the use of the phrase Christian fundamentalist adds to similar misgivings among many Christians of an anti-Christian bias in that same media. Stereotyping in this way, without context, is at best lazy journalism.
Think about it. How often do you actually see references in news reports to Buddhist radicals or Hindu terrorists or Jewish extremists? We suspect the answer is rarely if ever.
The VOA Stylebook says this about the use of the phrase Islamic fundamentalists: “Except in direct quotation avoid this term, which suggests that violence is somehow a fundamental part of Islam… It is important to remember that most Muslims are neither radical nor militant.”
To go one step further, identifying anyone by religion, race or gender in a news story should only be done when religion, race or gender is relevant to what’s being reported.
We can’t guarantee that everyone will like this policy just as we don’t expect everyone to approve of the way we write our news reports.
But we’re not out to please, just inform.
Our job, as our Charter says, is to serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news and to represent America, not any single segment of American society, while at the same time presenting the policies of the United States clearly and effectively along with responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.
And that’s just what we will continue to do.