There was much in the article that proved this wasn't true. The examples where both had been used. The quote from a BBC presenter saying he'd continue using BC/AD. And, most importantly, the relegated-to-the-end-in-the-hope-no-one-sees-it quote from a BBC spokesman which stated:
'The BBC has not issued editorial guidance on the date systems. Both AD and BC, and CE and BCE are widely accepted date systems and the decision on which term to use lies with individual production and editorial teams.'
In case there was any doubt, the BBC also told the Guardian's Reality Check:
Whilst the BBC uses BC and AD like most people as standard terminology it is also possible for individuals to use different terminology if they wish to, particularly as it is now commonly used in historical research.
So BC/AD is used as 'standard' but the BBC allows people to use BCE/CE, based on personal preference.
Knowing that is the case, why did the Mail on Sunday decide to run its 'BC/AD dropped' story? And why have other newspapers and columnists continue to repeat the 'ban' lie as if it is true?
On Sunday, the Telegraph's website churned out a quick news story that repeated the claims despite also including (at the end, of course) the BBC's quote denying them.
In the Mail's RightMinds section, James Delingpole said of the BBC:
No longer will its website refer to those bigoted, Christian-centric concepts AD (as in Anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord) and BC (Before Christ)...All reference to Christ has been expunged.
This depite the BBC's denial - which he doesn't mention - and despite the fact there are many references to BC and AD on the BBC's website.
Either Delingpole knew this, and wrote that the terms had been 'expunged' anyway, or he didn't check, and wrote it without knowing for sure. It's very poor practice either way. And that's not a first for Delingpole - he also repeated the £32-loaf-of-bread nonsense a day after that first appeared, despite it being completely wrong.
On Sunday evening, RightMinds ran another column on the subject, this time from Reverend Dr Peter Mullen, who once 'joked' about tattooing homosexuals with health warnings. It begins:
No one should be surprised that the BBC has stopped using the abbreviations all us have always known: BC for Before Christ and AD for Anno Domini - the years of our Lord.
Since they haven't, it's not the best start. And it doesn't get any better:
Because the BBC is the very vanguard of the secularizing tendency which has declared itself as wanting to obliterate Christianity from public life and the public discussion of important moral and political affairs.
This hatred of our Christian heritage...
To be honest, I don't think the BBC's undoubted loathing of our Christian heritage is the main issue.
They just loath anything that smacks of tradition and value and Englishness, of all that most of us were brought up to respect.
Like Stalin or Pol Pot, the BBC would like to abolish all reverence for the past
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'?
Moreover, thirty-five minutes into Sunday's episode of Antiques Roadshow expert John Axford used both BC and AD. This was two hours after Mullen had told everyone the BBC had 'stopped using' the abbreviations.
It was somewhat inevitable that Melanie Phillips would also mention it in her column in Monday's Daily Mail. She said the BBC:
has decided that the terms AD and BC (Anno Domini, or the Year of Our Lord, and Before Christ) must be replaced by the terms Common Era and Before Common Era.
Either she hadn't read the BBC's statement - or even, as a journalist, spoken to the BBC for clarification on the matter - or she decided it was worth ignoring.
One of the most sinister aspects of political correctness is the way in which its edicts purport to be in the interests of minority groups.
This is despite the fact that, very often, they are not promulgated at the behest of minorities at all, but by members of the majority who want to destroy their own culture and who use minorities to camouflage their true intentions.
The latest manifestation stars once again that all-time world champion of political correctness, the BBC.
But then she adds:
It so happens, however, that along with many other Jewish people I sometimes use CE and BCE since the terms BC and AD are not appropriate to me.
Do as she says, not as she does. If the abbreviations are not 'appropriate' to her, why should they be 'appropriate' to everyone who works at the BBC? Phillips also refers to the BBC's 'edict' on this matter but the 'edict' is, as the BBC has made clear, 'use whichever terms you want'.
She then points to some examples of BCE/CE being used - not ones she has found through any research, but ones highlighted by the Mail on Sunday:
the terms CE and BCE are now increasingly finding their way onto news bulletins and on programmes such as University Challenge or Melvyn Bragg’s Radio Four show In Our Time.
Thursday's edition of In Our Time is already being trailed on the BBC website:
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Etruscan civilisation.
Around 800 BC a sophisticated civilisation began to emerge in the area of Italy now known as Tuscany.
Phillips wider argument is that language is being 'hijacked' and so:
debate becomes impossible...words...have come to mean the precise opposite of what they really do mean.
But what about the BBC's words? How can a debate be possible on this topic when the Mail on Sunday, Delingpole, Mullen and Phillips refuse to take on board what the BBC has said and what it actually does? How does:
Whilst the BBC uses BC and AD like most people as standard terminology it is also possible for individuals to use different terminology if they wish to
become, to Phillips:
AD and BC...must be replaced by the terms Common Era and Before Common Era.
Words have indeed come to mean the precise opposite.
(Moreover, Phillips uses her column to claim 'Christmas has been renamed in various places 'Winterval'' despite the fact it hasn't been renamed Winterval in any place.)
And Phillips wasn't the only one in today's papers taking the same line. In the Telegraph, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said:
...it now turns out that some BBC committee or hierarch has decided that this nativity – notional or otherwise – can no longer be referred to by our state-funded broadcaster...
You know what, I just don't think this is good enough. This decision by the BBC is not only puerile and absurd. It is also deeply anti-democratic...
Johnson appears to believe in the myth of some centrally-issued edict that is banning the use of BC/AD at the BBC. But what he's actually calling 'deeply anti-democratic' is a position that says 'individuals can do what they wish'. Indeed, Martin Robbins argues that it is the Mail's view - 'It's not enough that the BBC allows staff to use AD, they must use it, always' - that is the more problematic.
As well as the columns by Johnson and Phillips, there have been further 'news' articles in today's papers. The Express' headline - 'Atheist' BBC drops year of Our Lord' - was very similar to the Mail on Sunday's. The article stated:
Bosses advised staff to replace Anno Domini – the Year Of Our Lord – and Before Christ with terms Common Era and Before Common Era.
The Mail and Telegraph both quoted BBC presenters who maintain they will be sticking to BC/AD yet both papers still refer to a 'diktat' and 'guidance' that the terms are 'barred'. The Mail's article puts the BBC's denial earlier in the story than the Mail on Sunday managed, yet it still carries the headline: Andrew Marr says he will ignore BBC diktat to stop use of BC and AD.
At the time of writing, there are 900 comments on Johnson's article, over 100 on Phillips' and over 1,500 on the original Mail on Sunday story. The vast majority are attacking the BBC for some 'edict' that they haven't, actually, issued. The story has been repeated on countless blogs, websites and forums and been linked to by outraged people on Twitter.
The BBC's position - BC/AD is standard, but people can use whichever they want - has generally been forgotten or ignored.
To quote Phillips again:
The result of this hijacking of the language is that debate becomes impossible because words like...truth and many more have come to mean the precise opposite of what they really do mean.
(Hat-tips to Mark Burnley, Jem Stone and Martin Robbins)