BBC on Curiosity

A few days ago I complained to the BBC about the lack of live coverage of the Curiosity landing. The automatic response promised a reply within ten working days. Impressively, it arrived just now.

Less impressively, it didn’t really say anything useful.

Thanks for contacting us regarding the BBC’s Olympic Breakfast on 6 August.

I understand you were disappointed news of Nasa’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars wasn’t broadcast live on the programme.

Choosing the stories to cover in our programmes is a subjective matter and one which we know not every viewer will feel we get right every time. Factors such as whether it’s news that has just come in and needs immediate coverage, how unusual the story is and how much national interest there is in the subject matter will all play a part in deciding the level of coverage and where it falls within our output.

Essentially this is a judgement call rather than an exact science but BBC News does appreciate the feedback when viewers feel we may have overlooked or neglected a story.

It’s worth mentioning that there was coverage on our BBC News website at the time and that we’ve had a number of follow up stories and photo articles on the early days of Curiosity Rover’s mission on Mars, as the following articles illustrate:

Nevertheless, I’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log for the benefit of news teams and senior management within the BBC. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape future decisions and they ensure that your points, and all other comments we receive, are made available to BBC staff across the Corporation.

I guess I’m just going to accept that the people who decide what is important enough to warrant live coverage on BBC Breakfast don’t have anywhere near the same priorities as me and most of my friends.

Which is all very disappointing.


The Chances of Anything Going to Mars

At just after 6:30 this morning, history was made. NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. That was undoubtedly the biggest news that was happening live at 6:30 this morning. I don’t think any reasonable person could question that.

The people scheduling the stories that would be covered on the BBC News Channel are obviously not reasonable people.

I woke up at 6:00 fully expecting to find live pictures from NASA available somewhere on British television, When BBC Breakfast (temporarily renamed “Olympic Breakfast”) started, they spent the first five or ten minutes reviewing last night at the Olympics. The Mars landing was briefly mentioned as about the fifth item in the summary of “other news”.

“Ok,” I thought, “that’s slightly disappointing; but surely they’ll go live to NASA as the landing approaches.” I was wrong.

As Curiosity landed at 6:31, the BBC News Channel was broadcasting a local travel bulletin. It was something like fifteen minutes before they got round to showing scenes from the NASA control room.

Here’s how I watched the landing. I found the NASA live stream on my Nexus 7 and had the BBC on in the background in case the editors ever came to their senses.

I understand that the Olympics are important to the BBC. Their coverage of the  event has been outstanding. But surely the point of having a 24-hour rolling news channel is that it gives you the ability to cover big news stories as they happen. There was no new Olympic news at 6:30 this morning. We were several hours away from anything happening in any Olympic event. Surely the BBC could have taken fifteen minutes out of its flagship news channel to show live pictures of one of the year’s biggest science stories.

Over the last week, the BBC has been broadcasting 51 channels that are dedicated to the Olympics (BBC One, BBC Three, BBC One HD and twenty-four special Olympics channels that are broadcast in both SD and HD). No-one can seriously argue that the Olympics aren’t getting enough coverage. It’s very disappointing that the BBC couldn’t find fifteen minutes to give this story the coverage it deserved.

I’m a big fan of the BBC. I will defend it against any ridiculous attack that the Mail or the Sun throw at it. It’s not often that the BBC disappoints me.

But I can’t remember ever being quite as disappointed in the BBC as I am right now.

Update: Through the power of Twitter I had a brief conversation about this with Kevin Bakhurst, the controller of the BBC News Channel.


Some Doctor Who Theories (Revisited)

Back in May, after two episodes of Doctor Who series 6, I made some predictions about the rest of the series. Now that the series is over, it’s time to go back over those predictions to see how I did.

There were nine of them.

  1. The eye-patch lady is going to be important.
    Excellent start. The eye-patch lady was Madame Kovarian who turned out to be the major baddie of the series.
  2. Craig Owens will be back.
    Another score. Of course I went on to make some suggestions about the Silence which turned out to be completely untrue. But Craig came back. Therefore I get a point.
  3. Amy is having some kind of “Schroedinger pregnancy”
    I was kind of on the right lines here. But I’m not going to give myself the point.
  4. Amy’s daughter is the little girl from the spacesuit.
    Yep. Another point for me.
  5. The little girl either is a Time Lord or has somehow acquired some Time Lord attributes.
    And another. And I even went on to correctly predict why she acquired those attributes.
  6. The Silence are interested in the little girl because of her Time Lord abilities.
    No, not really. The Silence were interested in Melody mainly because they wanted her to kill the Doctor. And I don’t think any of that hinged on her Time Lord abilities.
  7. It was River in the spacesuit at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut.
    Yes yes yes. In the middle of the series I thought I’d got this wrong. I thought that it would be young Melody in the spacesuit. That would still give me the point on a technicality, but I was glad to see that it really was the older River.
  8. The little girl will grow up to be River Song.
    Really quite proud of myself for getting that one.
  9. Idris is one of River’s earlier regenerations. And that’s when River and the Doctor marry.
    Completely and utterly wrong on all counts. Of course, I would never have made the second part of that prediction if I had known the title of episode 13 at the time.

So six out of nine. Not at all bad. Maybe I should apply for a job as a writer on the show.

What did you think of the seires finale? I enjoyed it very much as I was watching it, but having slept on it I’m not sure how much I liked the resolution with the Teselecta. I think it leads to, at least, three plot holes.

  1. I’m unconvinced that the Teselecta could fake the regeneration energy that we saw surrounding the Doctor as he died.
  2. If the Doctor who met River in the Pyramid was the Teselecta, then why does time start to move again when they touch? It’s not the Doctor and River touching.
  3. As the Doctor didn’t realyl die at Lake Silencio, why did time start moving correctly? Surely time can’t be fooled by a simple trick like that.

Of course, it really doesn’t pay to look at most science fiction as closely as that. Probably best to just site back and let the story wash over you.

I’m now looking forward to the next seires, with the Doctor working underground.


BBC BCE Addendum

A couple of interesting new developments in BCE-gate.

Firstly, the BBC have apparently had a large number of complaints about this issue and yesterday they published a response on their complaints page.


We received complaints from people concerned about press reports claiming that the BBC has replaced the reference terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) with BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era).

BBC Response

It is incorrect to say that the BBC has replaced date systems BC and AD with Before Common Era (BCE) and Common Era (CE). Whilst the BBC uses BC and AD like most people as standard terminology, it is possible to use different terminology, particularly as it is now commonly used in historical research. The BBC has issued no editorial guidance on date systems, and the decision rests with the individual editorial and production teams. It should also be noted that for every BCE or CE reference, there are still a great many BC and AD references used across the BBC.

All of which is pretty clear and should see the end of the story. It won’t though, of course.

Another thing that was bothering me about the story was the timing. Why did it suddenly blow up last week? As I said yesterday, I suspected that it was just because Peter Hitchens happened to see BCE mentioned on University Challenge and complained about it in his column. But in Delingpole’s article he says:

From now on, it will use initials which strip our traditional Gregorian calendar of its offensive religious context.

Notice that “from now on” which heavily implies that this is a new ruling. He goes on to state that the new ruling is explained on a Q&A section on the BBC Religion site. That’s clearly a reference to the FAQ that I mentioned yesterday.

So Delingpole clearly believes that this is a new BBC initiative. And I think that it’s his belief that informs Chris Hastings’ front page story on Sunday.

But just how new is that section of the FAQ? I had suspicions that it had been around for a while (it was built using a technology that the BBC no longer uses for new web development) so I sent an email to the BBC to ask them how long that answer had been on the FAQ page.

I haven’t yet received an answer to my email, but the same question occurred to the people at Tabloid Watch who got in touch with the BBC Press Office for clarification. The response they received was that the FAQ had been on the site, unchanged, for over four years.

So let’s review what we know:

  • The BBC does not have a policy in place forcing programmes to use BCE and CE in place of BC and AD
  • There is a policy on the BBC Religion web site to use BCE and CE on that site[1].
  • The Religion web site policy has been in place for at least four years

There is simply no story here. The story that the Mail has been peddling for the last few days just isn’t true. And the tiny grain of fact at the centre of the Mail’s story has been there for many years.

The Mail has embarrassed itself here. The echo chamber of its writers (I almost wrote “journalists” there but stopped myself just in time) has spun this story out of nothing. Writer after writer has repeated and expanded this story. If any of them had stopped to check facts they would have realised what fools they were making of themselves.

You just can’t trust anything you read in the Mail.

[1] However, it’s worth noting that every page on that site which talks about Christianity seems to break that policy and uses BC and AD.


The Birth of a Meme

It’s not often that you can trace a tabloid meme back to its beginnings. Over the last week we’ve seen the birth of a new tabloid meme and, luckily, we’re able to see where it comes from.

Here’s the seed. It’s from the Frequently Asked Questions page on the BBC Religion religion web site.

Why does use BCE and CE instead of BC and AD?

In line with modern practice uses BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/AD. As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.

There is something important to notice here. From reading the answer to question, it’s clear that it’s only talking about the BBC Religion web site – this is not a BBC-wide policy. Also note that this page has been there for some time. There’s nothing at all that indicates that this is a new rule. But that’s not how it seemed to various Mail columnists.

In the Mail on Sunday on 18th Septamber, Peter Hitchins wrote this:

The BBC’s Chief Commissar for Political Correctness (whom I imagine as a tall, stern young woman in cruel glasses issuing edicts from an austere office) was hard at work again last week.

On University Challenge, Jeremy Paxman referred to a date as being Common Era, rather than AD. This nasty formulation is designed to write Christianity out of our culture. Given the allegedly ferocious Mr Paxman’s schoolgirlish, groupie-like treatment of various prominent atheists in recent interviews, maybe he favours this far-from-impartial view.

I’m guessing that Hitchens just happened to be watching University Challenge, got annoyed by the use of “Common Era” and decided to use it at the end of his column to have a little go at the BBC. It probably wouldn’t have gone any further if it wasn’t for James Delingpole.

On Saturday Delingpole wrote a piece for the Mail entitled “How the BBC fell for a Marxist plot to destroy civilisation from within”. I swear I’m not making this up. The piece reads like something from The Onion but, amazingly, he seems to be completely serious. It’s Delingpole who links Hitchens’ annoyance to the FAQ page I quoted above. He writes:

No longer will [The BBC’s] website refer to those bigoted, Christian-centric concepts AD (as in Anno Domini – the Year of Our Lord) and BC (Before Christ). From now on, it will use initials which strip our traditional Gregorian calendar of its offensive religious context. All reference to Christ has been expunged, replaced by the terms CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era).

But the BBC isn’t doing this because it has been flooded with complaints, you understand. Nor is it responding to public demand. No, as it primly explains on the Q&A page on the section of its website, it is doing it to be ‘in line with modern practice’.

He’s getting it completely wrong, of course. As we’ve already established, the FAQ page is only talking about a single section section of the BBC’s web site. But Delingpole isn’t a man who ever lets facts stand in the way of a good rant. Building on a non-existent foundation he spins a magnificent conspiracy theory about pernicious left wingers destroying the British way of life.

BBC turns its back on year of our Lord
Then, on Sunday, Chris Hastings ties it all together, building on Hitchens’ annoyance, the BBC FAQ and Delingpole’s rantings to produce a front-page story with the headline “BBC turns its back on year of Our Lord: 2,000 years of Christianity jettisoned for politically correct ‘Common Era'”.

But, of course, the story doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. In fact it is full of internal contradictions.

The Corporation has replaced the familiar Anno Domini (the year of Our Lord) and Before Christ with the obscure terms Common Era and Before Common Era.

A bold statement which is rather shown up by the following sentence which admits that University Challenge and In Our Time “are among the growing number of shows using the new descriptions” – indication that the BBC’s evil plan isn’t quite as advanced as Hastings would like us to think. It’s also interesting that he uses the phrase “new descriptions” as the terms have been around for 150 years.

If you get to the end of the article, he has asked the BBC for a statement on the issue. They say:

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.

A lesser man would have realised that this statement completely overturns the argument of the article and may even have thought better of submitting the story. Hastings, however, knows that most Mail readers don’t get past the first couple of paragraphs of a story and decided to press ahead safe in the knowledge that very few people would get to the end and realise the embarrassing truth. And it seems he was right to do so, as this story currently has over 1,500 comments, the vast majority of which are from people who obviously didn’t get far past the headline.

I thought that would have been the end of it, but this nonsense now seems to have gone viral. Yesterday the Mail published “Our language is being hijacked by the Left to muzzle rational debate” by Melanie Phillips (don’t read it – really, you have been warned) and “The BBC just loath anything that smacks of tradition” by Reverend Peter Mullen. Neither of these articles show any evidence of the authors having taken any time to investigate the story at all. The story has also moved beyond the Mail and has been covered by other papers like the Telegraph.

So there you have it. The birth of a new anti-BBC meme. One throwaway remark from a Mail writer and within a week the BBC is under attack for something that it hasn’t done. Well done Peter Hitchens. And the brilliant thing (as far as the Mail is concerned) is that the BBC is in a lose-lose situation here. If programmes stop using BC and AD then the paranoia of the Mail will be proved correct. If, however, (as seems far more likely) a mixture of the two systems continue to be used as it has been for several years, then the Mail will be able to point out every use of BC and AD as a triumph for its campaign.

One more nail in the coffin of rational debate in this country.

P.S. For more detail on the story see these two great posts over on Tabloid Watch.

Update: I’ve just seen this in an old article on the Daily Mail site:

A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the 10th century BCE.

And, you know what, not a ripple of complaint in the comments.


Some Doctor Who Theories

We’re two episodes into the new series of Doctor Who and from what we’ve seen so far the arc plot is going to be even more complex than last year. Here are a few theories that have occurred to me over the last couple of days. They aren’t spoilers in any meaningful way as I don’t know any more than anyone who has seen the first two episodes of the series and has spend an unreasonable number of waking hours trawling the internet for clues about what is going on.

However, you might still want to avoid the rest of the post on the off-chance that I get something right.

Let’s start with a few obvious things:

  1. The eye-patch lady is going to be important. It’s possible, of course, that she just appears in Day of the Moon as an expression of Amy’s confusion in the children’s home. But if that was the case, I’m pretty sure that Frances Barber wouldn’t have taken the job. She might be keen to be in Doctor Who, but she wouldn’t do it for a single ten second appearance. She’ll definitely be back. And she’ll be important.
  2. Craig Owens will be back. Ok, we already know that James Corden will be returning but it’s now almost certain that the abandoned spaceship upstairs from his flat was a Silence vessel so I think that he’ll be playing Craig again.
  3. Amy is having some kind of “Schroedinger pregnancy”. Whether or not she is pregnant won’t be resolved until the probabilities are collapsed by some action that the TARDIS crew take later on in the season. And my suspicion is that she will will be pregnant – for reasons that will be clearer after my next few points.

Then, a few theories that are a bit more out there, but still supported by some evidence:

  1. Amy’s daughter is the little girl from the spacesuit. We’ve seen photos that strongly imply that.
  2. The little girl either is a Time Lord or has somehow acquired some Time Lord attributes (like the ability to regenerate). This will be due to Amy and Rory travelling in the TARDIS for so long. Amy’s fears about the baby having a “time head” will prove to be prophetic.
  3. The Silence are interested in the little girl because of her Time Lord abilities. Remember what River said about Time Lord bodies at the start of The Impossible Astronaut.
  4. It was River in the spacesuit at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut. This ties in with what she said about killing the best man she ever knew. Not sure about this. There were no surviving witnesses who knew who it was – so how would she be convicted and imprisoned?

And some stuff that is pretty much guesswork:

  1. The little girl will grow up to be River Song. But would that invalidate the ending of Forest of the Dead?
  2. There’s an upcoming episode called “The Doctor’s Wife”. And there’s a character in that called Idris, who is described as an old friend with a new face. That’ll be one of River’s earlier regenerations. And, given the title of the episode, I’m going to guess that this is when The Doctor and River marry (or, at least, come as close as they ever do to marrying).

That’s nine predictions. It’ll be interesting to come back after the end of the series how close I got.

What do you think? Any alternative theories?


Neil Gaiman Explains Doctor Who

Neil Gaiman was asked whether people need to know about the show’s previous history before watching the new series of Doctor Who. This was his reply:

No, look, there’s a blue box. It’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It can go anywhere in time and space and sometimes even where it’s meant to go. And when it turns up, there’s a bloke in it called The Doctor and there will be stuff wrong and he will do his best to sort it out and he will probably succeed ’cause he’s awesome. Now sit down, shut up, and watch ‘Blink’.

Watch the video of the panel where he says it.


BBC Radio Streams

I’ve just written this over on my BBC Radio Streams page:

I’ve got email from a couple of people saying that the Real Audio radio streams were finally turned off overnight. This means that the few links left on these pages (and any links that you have saved from earlier versions of this page) will no longer work.

I expected this day to come at some point. The BBC really want everyone to use the Radio iPlayer instead.

This does, however, pose a problem for people who where using the Read Audio streams to power internet radios and similar devices. I’m not sure that there’s a solution to this problem, but I’ll have a poke around and see if I can see if I can find a way around it.

Other than that, I’d just like to say thanks for using these pages during the five and a half years that they have been live. When I sat down to hack out a quick solution in November 2004 I had no idea how many people would find the pages so useful.

I’d also like to thank the BBC for the enlightened approach they took to my pages. They could easy have just asked me to close the site down, but instead they chose to turn a blind eye and take my pages as an indication of something that was missing from their site.

Update: I’ve just found this entry on the BBC Internet Blog. The BBC have introduced live streaming of their radio stations to various mobile devices. I haven’t investigated in detail, but this looks like it might be a replacement for the Real Audio streams.


Bloggers – help beat Trafigura gag on BBC!

Richard Wilson writes:

You can help beat Trafigura’s gag on the BBC by embedding this Youtube video on your website… …and linking to this pdf!

Here’s why…

Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.
The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.

via Left Outside


The BNP on Question Time

Here’s what I think.

Nick Griffin is an odious little toad of a man.

Everything that the British National Party stands for is abhorrent to all sane people.

However, there are enough irrational people on the electoral register that the BNP are an elected party.

Question Time is supposed to be politically neutral. An unfortunate side effect of this is that the BNP will occasionally invited onto Question Time. You can’t blame the BBC for this. Blame the idiots who elected them.

There is more than a little irony in anti-fascist protesters trying to stop an elected party from speaking. And as a side effect they have given Griffin far more publicity than he deserves and given him a chance to play the martyr. The UAF are doing more harm than good. It’s the  BNP who are supposed to be the stupid one.

The best way to handle this was to have Griffin on the panel but to have stacked the rest of the panel with intelligent and erudite people like Stephen Fry who would have easily shown him up as the buffoon that he is and his policies as the poisonous nonsense that they are. Give him enough rope to hang himself.

Oh, and I have another suggestion for the BBC. As I tweeted this afternoon:

BBC, if you want to give the BNP some air-time, why not put Nick Griffin on “Who Do You Think You Are”? I’d love to see that.