CBC Ottawa - Reuters upset by CanWest's misuse of 'terrorist'
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Last Updated | Sep 17 2004 08:34 AM EDT

Reuters upset by CanWest's misuse of 'terrorist'

OTTAWA - The world's oldest news agency, Reuters, says it will complain to CanWest Global's newspaper chain about its use of the word "terrorist" when editing stories dealing with the Middle East.

Papers owned by CanWest Publications, Canada's largest newspaper chain, have been altering words and phrases in some newswire copy stories dealing with the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thereby changing their meaning.

In one Reuters story, the original copy reads: "… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank."

In the National Post version, printed Tuesday, it became: "… the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel."

The global managing editor for Reuters, David Schlesinger, called the changes unacceptable. He said that CanWest crossed a line from editing for style, to editing the substance and slant of news from the Middle East.

"If they want to put their own judgment into it, they're free to do that, but then they shouldn't say that it's by a Reuters reporter," said Schlesinger.

Neither the National Post nor CanWest returned calls.

Schlesinger said Reuters will be in touch with CanWest.

But CanWest has a policy of renaming some groups as terrorists, according to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, which is part of the CanWest chain.

Scott Anderson said the paper has applied that term primarily to Arab groups, and that there have been mistakes.

One such problem, said Anderson, involved an Associated Press story last week about the Iraqi city of Fallujah where Iraqi insurgents have been battling U.S.-led occupation forces. The Citizen inserted the word "terrorist" seven times.

While Anderson said the fighters in Fallujah are not terrorists, he does not believe the paper has a duty to inform its readers when it changes words.

"We're editing for style," he said. "We're editing so that we have clear consistent language to describe what's going on in the world. And if we've made a mistake we should correct that. And we will."

In response to a letter published Friday about the article, the Citizen writes:

"The changes to the Associated Press story do not reflect Citizen policy, which is to use the term 'terrorist' to describe someone who deliberately targets civilians. As such, the changes to the Associated Press story were made in error."

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