Mail on Sunday Whips Up “BCE” Hysteria

As has been widely reported, the latest Mail on Sunday decided that the most important thing we all need to know about is the fact that parts of the BBC website use the dating terms “BCE” and “CE”, rather than the more old-fashioned “BC” and “AD”. While most of us don’t give this long-established academic convention a second thought, the story – by Chris Hastings – has managed to whip up some resentment against the BBC for turning “Its Back on the Year of the Lord”.

Tabloid Watch has a useful round-up of reactions: pundits on the bandwagon include Boris Johnson (who apparently has time on his hands now that London’s problems have all been solved and everything is ready for the Olympics); the repellent Melanie Phillips (who should win a humbug award for ranting on despite admitting that she herself prefers to use “BCE” and “CE”); and the absurd James Delingpole (who sees a “Marxist plot” inspired by Herbert Marcuse at work).

Religious figures have also waded in, such as Rev. Peter Mullen (more on him here), who railed against the “BBC’s undoubted loathing of our Christian heritage”. Tabloid Watch observes (links added):

Mullen’s rant was published at 6.27pm on Sunday night – less than an hour after BBC1 broadcast 30-minutes of hymns and tradition in Songs of Praise: 50 Amazing Years. Earlier in the day, BBC Radio 4 had broadcast Sunday Worship. Every weekday the same station broadcasts Prayer for the Day, Thought for the Day and the Daily Service. Is this the BBC’s ‘undoubted loathing of our Christian heritage’?

And let’s not forget Choral Evensong, which has been broadcast weekly from cathedrals across the country since 1926, and Bells on Sunday, which consists exclusively of the sound of church bells. On Sunday. There is also a dedicated religion news slot, Sunday, and if you keep a close eye on the schedules a decent amount of material about Christianity can be found in programmes on history or the arts, particularly on BBC Four or Radio 3. There has been a some decline in the amount of religious programming in recent years, but that’s as a result of processes of secularisation, rather than because secularists have taken over the media; that’s why the situation is far worse on commercial ITV than on the BBC.

But to return to the main point: Hastings’ article is simply untrue. The BBC has officially clarified that it does not have an editorial policy on “CE” vs “AD”, and that it leaves preferred usage to individual production teams. Tabloid Watch notes that references to “BC” and “AD” continue to appear on the BBC website and during BBC programmes.

The Mail has also run the article as an “Islamization” scare story: as Martin Robbins notes, it originally included a photo of the BBC’s head of religion, Aaqil Ahmed, with a caption telling us that “the Corporation say, bizarrely, the change has nothing to [do] with Mr Ahmed”. Later, the Mail decided it wasn’t quite so bizarre after all, and changed the caption simply to point out that Ahmed is a Muslim and that the BBC Religion and Ethics website is “littered” with references to “BCE” and “CE”. This fits with the narrative of an earlier Daily Mail attack on the BBC’s coverage of Christianity, which I blogged on in 2009 here.

It should be noted that Hastings has form when it comes to distorting facts. Back in January he wrote a Mail article claiming that the American broadcast of Downton Abbey would be cut “by two hours because American TV executives fear its intricate plot will baffle U.S. viewers”. Hastings had spoken to US television critic Jace Lacob, who went on to write a denunciation of Hastings’ journalistic integrity:

…despite the fact that I spelled out for Hastings that barely any cuts had been made to Downton Abbey, he wrote a now much-publicized piece for The Daily Mail in which he alleges, according to the hyperbolic lede, that “Downton downsized… by two hours because American TV executives fear its intricate plot will baffle U.S. viewers.”

To put it bluntly: it’s simply not true.

While I would be incensed about the article to begin with–given that Hastings took up my time on vacation, interrupted me incessantly while I was answering his questions, refused to listen to me, clearly had an agenda of his own, and then had the temerity to quote my review without proper attribution–I’m most angry about the fact that I actually did the math for Hastings during the interview, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that there weren’t two hours missing from the US broadcast of the series.

The only thing missing here are, in fact, the commercials themselves…

It appears that while Chris Hastings is very keen to defend “The Year of Our Lord”, he has less regard for the Ninth Commandment. I suspect the love of money has something to do with it.

4 Responses

  1. What people don’t seem to realize is that whether we use BC/AD or the more politically correct BCE/CE we are still using a dating system that revolves around the Christian religion. This is like putting chapstick on pig (it doesn’t even amount to lipstick).

  2. […] readers may recall, the Mail-on-Sunday was just last week forefront of a campaign to expose the willingness of BBC to allow the use of “BCE” and “CE” as […]

  3. […] Phillips’ use of the Winterval  story was part of larger campaign by the Mail to whip up hysteria over the use of “BCE” and “CE” rather than “BC” and “AD” on part of the BBC website.  That was a load of nonsense too, as I blogged here. […]

  4. […] should be recalled that Hastings has form as a yellow journalist. He recently whipped up a “BBC uses BCE-CE dating system” hysteria, and before that was responsible for a […]

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