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History of the ABC Style Guide entry on Terrorism

The ABC is to alter its style guide at last. (See article ABC Style guide to be revised)

I believe that this represents a victory for all people who read blogs and who create articles on blogs. This is how the internet can be an instrument of people power. The victory was achieved by the convergence of the grassroots with Federal Parliament backbenchers in what can be described as a classic pincer manouver on the ABC. It was hurried along by a tragic event - the London terrorist bombings.

Here is a brief history of the
"Remember, one person's terrorist is usually someone else's 'freedom fighter'"


In May 2005 Senator Santo Santoro, questioning Russell Balding in the Senate, raised the issue publicly for the first time. The Senator wanted to know why the Style guide had the sentence in it.

In late June 2005 ICJS obtained the Style Guide.

  • The Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported the matter.
  • ICJS critiqued the Style Guide
  • Online Opinion Journal published an article by Fran Feldman T is for Freedom Fighter.
  • Andrew Landeryou's blog ran the issue.
  • Tim Blair's blog ran the issue
  • Dissecting the Left ran the issue
  • In addition to these well known blogs, many of the Jewish blogs also published the information
  • Many ICJS readers wrote to Senators, and to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and even to the AJN. Kron from the AJN did a neat cartoon:


Even ABC supporters called it "an unfortunate choice of words". One week before the London Bombings the ABC defended its style guide on a radio program called Media Matters.

Then, on July 7 2005 came the London bombings. For the first few hours (one of our members listened to the ABC and News radio) the ABC called it a "possible militant attack". Later in the night they ignored their style guide and called it a terrorist attack, following the BBC's use of the word.

The ABC stopped publicly defending its entry in the style guide after the London bombings and Senators Fierravanti-Wells and Ronaldson continued to ask challenging questions about it in subsequent Senate Estimates hearings.

Received today (4/09/06):

Media Release


Senator Michael Ronaldson today welcomed weekend newspaper reports of an imminent revision to the ABC’s news and current affairs style guide. It is reported that the revision will remove the reference to “freedom fighters” from its entry on terrorism and finally acknowledge terrorists as terrorists.

The previous version of the ABC style guide advised ABC journalists:

    Remember, one person’s ‘terrorist’ is usually someone else’s ‘freedom fighter’. ‘Terrorism’, ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’, ‘gunman’, etc. are all labels. Our reports should rely first on facts, and clear descriptions of events, rather than labels that may seem too extreme or too soft, depending on your point of view.

“I am pleased that the appalling failure of ABC journalists to label terrorists as terrorists appears to be coming to an end.” Senator Ronaldson said.

The ABC’s muddle-headed approach to the labeling of terrorists was starkly demonstrated in their portrayal of the bombings of London in July 2005. The ABC reports on the London bombing initially referred to ‘a suspected militant attack’ and were later changed to refer to ‘The London bomb attack’.

“I stand by my call in my maiden speech to the Senate in August last year. We must not be afraid to label such acts as terrorism. We must not be afraid to describe such acts in moral terms as evil.”

“I hope that this revision of the ABC style guide marks the beginning of a practical approach for all ABC journalists to the labeling of terrorists.”

“Given that the ABC Director of News conceded that Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas were terrorist organisations at Senate Estimates in May henceforth all Australians will expect to see these organizations labeled as terrorist organisations.” Senator Ronaldson concluded.

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