The BBC has been accused of ‘absurd political correctness’ after dropping the terms BC and AD in case they offend non-Christians.
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.
Some of the BBC’s most popular programmes including University Challenge, presented by Jeremy Paxman, and Radio 4’s In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, are among the growing number of shows using the new descriptions.
The BBC’s religious and ethics department says the changes are necessary to avoid offending non-Christians.
It states: ‘As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.
In line with modern practice, BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) are used as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/AD.’
But the move has angered Christians, mystified other faith leaders and been branded unnecessary by the Plain English Campaign. Critics say the new terms are meaningless because, just like AD and BC, they still denote years in relation to the life of Christ.
Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said: ‘I think this amounts to the dumbing down of the Christian basis of our culture, language and history. These changes are unnecessary and they don’t achieve what the BBC wants them to achieve.
‘Whether you use Common Era or Anno Domini, the date is actually still the same and the reference point is still the birth of Christ.’
Marie Clair of the Plain English Campaign said: ‘As with most politically correct innovations, I am sure this was done with the best of intentions. But it is difficult to see what the point of the changes are if people do not understand the new terms. It sounds like change just for the sake of change.’
The website for BBC Religion and Ethics, headed by commissioning editor Aaqil Ahmed, who is a Muslim, is littered with references to Common Era and Before Common Era.
However, the BBC bizarrely insists the bbc.co.uk/religion website has nothing to do with Mr Ahmed and is actually the responsibility of BBC Learning.
The terms are not confined to religious output and have also been used in news bulletins. Some reports add to the confusion by switching between both terms in the same item.
A report on historic monuments in Jerusalem, for instance, informed viewers that Temple Mount, a shrine which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, was built in ’70 AD (the Common Era)'; while a recent report on frankincense quoted one reference to 7000 BC before describing another event as taking place in the 1st Century BCE.
The BBC’s Learning and GCSE Bitesize websites, which are aimed at schoolchildren, also use the terms.
The Learning website advises that ‘BCE/CE is now more acceptable to a greater number of faiths and religions’.