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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 12:35 GMT
Reporting the conflict in Iraq
By Helen Boaden
Director, BBC News

The BBC has striven to report the war in Iraq and the continuing conflict impartially. However, it has received complaints about bias, a lack of coverage of civilian casualties and terminology. BBC News director Helen Boaden addresses some key concerns.

US soldiers in Falluja
Several BBC correspondents have been embedded with US troops in Falluja

What are the guidelines for covering the conflict?

Our aim as BBC journalists is to approach all stories, including wars, from an impartial standpoint, reflecting events and significant opinions in a fair and balanced way.

It is often incredibly difficult to disentangle the strands to get at the truth.

However, editors, producers, researchers and correspondents are constantly assessing every aspect of coverage.

Our aim is to inform our audiences and put developments in context so as to explain a complicated and developing story.

We are well aware of the need to report on the widest possible range of opinion about what is going on.

Why has the BBC not reported on civilian casualties?

BBC Correspondent Paul Wood
As I say many times, for any who remain, the situation is awful beyond imagining
BBC Middle East correspondent Paul Wood

From the outset, we have raised questions about civilian casualties both in the city and among those who have fled.

Getting first hand information from within Falluja has been extremely difficult.

We have made clear that correspondents embedded with the marines have seen little of civilians and their reports are restricted.

In Falluja in the past week, we, in common with other broadcasters, have not been able to report freely from civilian areas for safety reasons; but we have tried to remedy this as much as we can.

We have reported what's being said by aid officials in the city; we have talked by phone to ordinary residents (three such contributors to last Wednesday's Newsnight alone); we are interviewing Iraqis in the UK and we are using Arabic media reports and the BBC Arabic Service.

From the start, Newsnight and other outlets have interviewed Fadhil Badrani, who is a journalist in Falluja, who reports for the BBC World Service in Arabic.

Bombing scene in Falluja
The BBC has been accused of bias and not reporting civilian casualties

He has spoken of the street battles and the "hell" which the people left in Falluja have to endure.

We have also interviewed a journalist who was in Falluja until a few days before the US assault.

The BBC News website has carried Arab press reviews and special reports from Fadhil Badrani.

Why have you used the word insurgents to describe the resistance the US is facing?

The use of such words is often contentious.

This term was decided upon because it describes people who are "rising in active revolt".

It is the best word to use in situations of rebellion or conquest when there is no free-standing government.

We aim to provide our audiences with the information they need to make their own judgements.

Iraqi insurgent
BBC News uses the term insurgents to describe resistance in Iraq

Having consulted widely, this is probably the most appropriate word to use in the case of the fighters in Falluja, as distinct from civilians who may be staying in the city for other reasons, such as they're old or ill or want to protect their homes from possible looting.

On Radio Five Live's Drive programme, there was a discussion on this very issue.

The broadcaster and sociologist Professor Laurie Taylor was asked about whether the BBC should call the fighters in Falluja "insurgents", "resistance fighters" or "militants".

He replied: "We should probably credit the BBC with getting it right - with the word insurgent."

Is the BBC biased in favour of the US and UK governments?

We do not agree that the BBC is biased and acting as the mouthpiece for the US/UK government.

We have consistently reported on a wide range of arguments in the run up to, and now during, the Falluja offensive.

Here are a few examples of how we reported:

  • On the significant opposition to the Iraq war of Sir Stephen Wall, Tony Blair's one-time right-hand man on European matters.

  • The political fall-out within Iraq - the resignation from the interim government of the main Sunni Party, in protest at the Falluja assault.

  • Radio 4's World At One interviewed Iraq's former foreign minister about his "grave concerns about a protracted and bloody military operation in Falluja".

  • It also heard from Gwyn Prins, joint alliance research professor at the LSE and Columbia University, who, while believing there is military and political logic behind the decision to deal with the "Falluja problem", said the situation should not have reached such a pitch.

  • Radio 4's PM interviewed the UK spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic party, Fareed Sabri. (The Americans last tried to take Falluja in April. The military operation failed but it was followed by a negotiated peace. Fareed Sabri took part in that negotiation).

  • Last Friday's TV 10 O'Clock News kicked off its second piece on the story with Kofi Annan's criticisms of the coalition action and included Peter Kilfoyle MP as a domestic critic of the war.


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