The world's largest news agency, the Associated Press (AP), instructs reporters and organizations that rely on its style guide to avoid referring to Hamas as a terrorist organization, according to a review of the organization’s standards.
However, the agency allows its journalists and editors to use the term "terror" “in direct quotations or when attributed to authorities or others.”
“AP is not using the terms for specific actions or groups, other than in direct quotations or when attributed to authorities or others. Instead, we describe specific atrocities, massacres, bombings, assassinations and other such actions,” the guideline reads.
“In the past, the AP had used the terms without attribution sparingly and with great caution. We continue to use the terms in broad references to terrorism as a threat and anti-terrorism efforts, fear of terror, etc.”
Instead of "terror" or "terrorists," the agency advises using terms like "militants," "Hamas fighters," “attackers” or "combatants." The agency explains that it relies on Merriam-Webster’s New World College Dictionary definition of "militant" to describe Hamas: “ready and willing to fight; especially, vigorous or aggressive in supporting or promoting a cause; and Merriam-Webster: aggressively active (as in a cause).” Additionally, it advises against using the terms "Hamas soldiers" or "Hamas resistance" unless they appear in direct quotations.
However, the guideline then states that “The U.S. State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997. The European Union and other Western countries also consider it a terrorist organization.”
“Hamas has always espoused violence as a means to liberate occupied Palestinian territories. The group has vowed to annihilate Israel and has been responsible for many suicide bombings and other deadly attacks on civilians and Israeli soldiers.
“Hamas has carried out suicide bombings and over the years fired tens of thousands of increasingly powerful rockets from Gaza into Israel. It also established a network of tunnels running from Gaza to Egypt to smuggle in weapons, as well as attack tunnels burrowing into Israel.
The agency also instructs journalists and editors to “Use Palestine only in the context of Palestine's activities in international bodies to which it has been admitted.
“Do not use Palestine or the state of Palestine in other situations, since it is not a fully independent, unified state. For territory, refer specifically to the West Bank or Gaza, or the Palestinian territories in reference to both.”
When it comes to Jerusalem, the agency instructs not to refer to the city as the capital of Israel. “Israel considers the entire city to be its capital. The Palestinians view annexed east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state,” the guideline reads. “Most of the international community does not recognize Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem and believes its fate should be determined in peace talks.”
The West Bank, according to the style guide, can be described as “occupied territory” which is not part of Israel.
At the beginning of the guide, the agency explains that the attack by Hamas, according to the leader of its military wing, Mohammad Deif, is a response to “Israel's 16-year blockade of Gaza; Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, violence at at [sic] the Al-Aqsa Mosque — built on a contested Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews as the Temple Mount; increased attacks by settlers on Palestinians; and the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied lands Palestinians claim for a future state.”
However, the agency emphasizes the importance of balanced coverage of the conflict. “When approaching the 75-year Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to understand the deep wells of anger, hurt, bitterness and grievance built up over generations among Israelis and Palestinians who have lived with insecurity and conflict their whole lives, and who have seen many attempts at negotiation and mediation fail.
"In some ways, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the world's most intractable problem. Words should be chosen carefully to reflect respect for different perspectives on the conflict. Palestinians are divided between more moderate and more radical viewpoints. Similarly, among Israelis, some take a more far-right and ultranationalist approach to Palestinian demands and aspirations, and there are those who would want to achieve a peaceful co-existence.
"Avoid stereotyping, discuss nuance, and in broad ways maintain a balanced perspective. When talking about attacks, keep in mind that in a conflict going back so many years, there are often many antecedents.”
A journalist working for the agency, who asked to remain anonymous, criticized the new guidelines. "It's typical American progressive bias. We were directed to label al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization, as well as ISIS activities. How can we describe Hamas' actions against innocent civilians any differently? It's important to remember that thousands of media outlets worldwide, including leading ones, use our texts as they are without changing a word. We set the narrative, and I would expect senior management to act more fairly."
The AP said in response that it "regularly reviews its standards on language, especially in times of war, to be as accurate as possible. AP reports as fully and factually as we can about the actions in a conflict, including repugnant details and crimes."