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HOROLOGY

BBC determines it’s incapable of accurately reporting the time

By Zachary M. Seward in England

BBC clock

The BBC can’t tell time.

In a move befitting British public broadcasting’s 23,000-person bureaucracy, the BBC says the clock at the top of its website doesn’t meet the Beeb’s standards for accuracy and will be taken down.

The homepage clock, introduced in 2007, is modeled after the lightly ticking timepiece that appeared between television programs on BBC One in the 1980s. Despite an abundance of ways to tell time, readers complained when the BBC removed the clock from its homepage in a 2010 redesign. It was promptly restored.

But like most clocks on the web, the BBC’s sets itself according to the time on each user’s computer. That makes a certain sense, allowing the clock to adjust easily to time zones, but it was insufficient for the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s governing body, which investigated the horological controversy after a reader complained. It concluded that only the BBC could judge what time it is.

“The BBC takes accuracy very seriously,” it said in a statement that bore no hint of irony. “Given the technical complexities of implementing an alternative central clock, and the fact that most users already have a clock on their computer screen, the BBC has taken the decision to remove the clock from the homepage in an upcoming update.”

Creating its own system of telling time would have required ”about 100 staffing days,” according to a BBC report. Time is, indeed, a tricky matter for web developers, but that estimate says more about the broadcaster’s bureaucracy than the complexities of rendering a clock with JavaScript. Martin Belam, a designer and ex-Beeber, says the whole thing captures ”the insanity that working for the BBC sometimes is.”

Britain, it should be noted, is home to the world’s most accurate atomic clock, at the National Physical Laboratory, and the world’s most famous timepiece, Big Ben. But what is time, anyway? “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once,” said Albert Einstein, who proved that two people can experience time differently based on their movement.

Perhaps the BBC Trust should take up that conundrum next.