BBC Horizon Scandal

Author of the Month

Broadcasting Standards Commission

Complaints about unjust or unfair treatment by Mr Graham Hancock and Mr Robert Bauval, submitted on 8 December 1999 and 1 December 1999 respectively, about Horizon: Atlantis Reborn, broadcast by BBC 2 on 4 November 1999.

Adjudication

Introduction

On 4 November 1999, BBC2 broadcast Horizon: Atlantis Reborn, a documentary that looked at the theories of Mr Graham Hancock, supported by Mr Robert Bauval, about the existence of a lost civilisation from which all subsequent civilisations had derived. Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval were interviewed in the programme. They each complained to the Broadcasting Standards Commission that they had been treated unjustly or unfairly in the programme.

The Complaints

Mr Hancock complained that he had been treated unjustly or unfairly in that:

a) he had not been given an opportunity to respond to criticisms of the theory that the Giza pyramids in Egypt matched the position of stars in the Orion constellation at a particular period (the "correlation theory");

b) an important part of his argument for a correlation between the Great Sphinx and the constellation of Leo had been ignored, the programme had mocked his argument by correlating buildings in modern Manhattan with the constellation, and he had not been given the opportunity to respond;

c) he had not been given an opportunity to respond to criticism of his theory that there had been a similar correlation between the stars and concerning astronomy relating to monuments in Angkor, Cambodia;

d) the programme had implied that he had formulated the theory that the Great Sphinx was significantly older than was generally accepted;

e) the programme had failed to present his position that arguments in support of the artificiality of Yonaguni, an underwater structure in Japan, was man-made;

f) the programme had wrongly stated that he had originated the theory that Atlantis was Antarctica;

g) the programme had omitted his views on carbon-dating; and

h) the programme had created the impression that he was an intellectual fraudster who had put forward half-baked theories and ideas in bad faith, and that he was incompetent to defend his own arguments.

Mr Bauval complained that he had been treated unjustly or unfairly in that:

aa) he had not been given an opportunity to respond to criticism of his correlation theory; and

bb) the programme had created a "strong implication" that his theory was a "con".

a) No opportunity to respond to criticism: Giza

Mr Hancock said that the programme had shown pictures from Mr Bauval's book The Orion Mystery demonstrating that the pattern of the Giza pyramids correlated with the

pattern of stars in the Orion constellation at about 10,500 BCE. An astronomer, Dr Ed Krupp, had stated in the programme that the patterns only correlated if you turned either the image of Egypt or that of the sky upside down. Mr Hancock said that he had responded to Dr Krupp's criticisms in detail in a filmed interview, but none of his arguments had been used in the programme. The only comment of his which had been used was that Dr Krupp's remarks showed "a very pedantic and nit-picking and ungenerous attitude". This suggested that he had simply brushed aside the criticisms and was unable to refute them with substantial argument.

At a hearing held by the Commission, the BBC said that the programme-makers had included Mr Hancock's most powerful argument, that the Egyptian builders had sought not a precise mathematical correlation but "a pleasing symbolic resemblance".

This, and the inclusion of Mr Hancock's dismissal of Dr Krupp's criticisms as "nit-picking", had made it clear that Mr Hancock rejected the criticisms. However, theprogramme-makers had concluded that the arguments that Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval said should have been included were "insubstantial" and had had little claim to occupy time in the programme at the expense of other points. In a programme which programme that sought to tell a long and complex story, and where the correlation theoryis was only a small part of the argument, it had not been possible to include all the arguments which arguments that Mr Hancock had advanced in his interview. The BBC said that the programme-makers had fairly represented both Mr Hancock's position and that of his critics.

b) No opportunity to respond: the Great Sphinx

Mr Hancock said that, in several books written before the programme, he had argued that the Great Sphinx could have been designed as a terrestrial image or symbol of the constellation of Leo as it looked in 10,500 BCE. But the programme had said that there was "no evidence that this constellation was recognised by the ancient Egyptians". The programme-makers had ignored the case, made out by himself and Mr Bauval, that the ancient pyramid texts, the oldest surviving scriptures, showed that Leo was known to the writers. Mr Hancock said that he should have been given an opportunity to make this clear.

The BBC said that extensive research had revealed that there was no reference to the constellation of Leo in ancient Egyptian culture. Mr Hancock's argument was based on his own and Mr Bauval's speculations, not on evidence. They said that the pyramid texts were a collection of spells and incantations of highly uncertain meaning. Any interpretation of them was necessarily speculative, hence there had been no reference to them in the programme.

Mr Hancock said that the unfairness in not giving him the opportunity to present his evidence had been compounded by an attempt to mock his correlation theory by showing that key buildings in modern Manhattan could be joined up to show a pattern correlating with Leo. Viewers had been given the impression that his theory was no more than a game of "join the dots". The Manhattan example was irrelevant as there had been no god identified with Leo and no relevant sky-ground religious system.

The BBC said that the Manhattan example had been intended to show that "as long as you have enough points, and you don't need to make every point fit, you can find virtually any pattern you want". The programme had not suggested that Mr Hancock's theories rested on correlation patterns alone. It had said "But Hancock does offer other kinds of evidence for his theory".

Mr Hancock said that he had been given no opportunity to comment on the Manhattan example. He would have asked whether there was a religious system in New York which encouraged the construction of monuments in patterns correlated to the stars, and whether the buildings chosen were really aligned precisely, and were of a religious nature.

c) No opportunity to respond to criticism: Angkor

Mr Hancock said that the programme had included an interview with Ms Eleanor Mannika, an American scholar, in which she had criticised his argument that the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia had been constructed to correlate with Draco, the "dragon" constellation. Ms Mannika had said that there was no evidence that the dragon was known to the ancient Cambodians. Mr Hancock said that, while the builders of Angkor may not have known of dragons, they had understood the constellation as a cosmic snake. It was unfair that he had been given no opportunity to make this response in the programme.

The BBC said that Ms Mannika's point was wider than Mr Hancock realised. It was not just that there was no evidence of the Khmers of ancient Cambodia understanding Draco as a dragon, but there was no evidence that they recognised the constellation at all. There was a large body of Khmer inscriptions containing astronomical information, and the absence of any reference to Draco was decisive. It was true that they saw a serpent in the sky, but they saw it in the Milky Way, not Draco. There would have been little point in rehearsing Mr Hancock's arguments as the evidence was so conclusively against them. The BBC acknowledged at the hearing that, in hindsight, it might have been better not to have referred to dragons in Cambodian folklore, but they said that this had not been a point of substance in the argument and it had not resulted in any unfairness to Mr Hancock.

d) Age of the Great Sphinx

Mr Hancock said that the programme had incorrectly implied that he had originated the argument that the Great Sphinx in Egypt was much older than was generally thought. In fact he had relied on estimates made by Professor Schoch, who had argued from rates of erosion that the Sphinx was built around 7000 BCE rather than the orthodox estimate of 2300 BCE. By omitting Professor Schoch's estimates, the programme had implied that he, Mr Hancock, had originated the arguments for an older date to fit his theories.

The BBC said that the first suggestion of a much earlier date had come from Mr Rene Schwaller de Lubicz. Mr Anthony West had subsequently adopted the argument and had induced Professor Schoch to take an interest. But it was now generally accepted that the erosion of the Sphinx could be accounted for within conventional dating. Professor Schoch had vigorously contested Mr Hancock's proposed dating of 10,500 BCE, adding that the geological argument gave no support to Mr Hancock's theory that the Sphinx builders had been influenced by an earlier unknown civilisation. To have used a contribution on this point from Professor Schoch "would have done no favours" to Mr Hancock. It had been neither stated nor implied that Mr Hancock had originated the older date theory.

e) Yonaguni

Mr Hancock said that the programme had omitted his detailed reasons arguments for proposing that the under-water structure at Yonaguni, Japan, was artificial man-made and not a natural feature. Although the programme-makers had not included Professor Schoch's supportive views on the dating of the Sphinx, they had included his contrary view that Yonaguni was a natural feature. Viewers had not been told that there were Japanese experts such as Professor Masaaki Kimura who were convinced that the structure had been extensively worked by human beings.

The BBC said that it had been appropriate to hear from Professor Schoch on this subject. His geological expertise, while it did not make him infallible, left him better placed than Mr Hancock to give an expert assessment. Mr Hancock had been given the opportunity of commenting on Professor Schoch's view, and he had made the point that it had been based on only a small number of dives to inspect the structure, whereas he regarded 50 as the minimum necessary for any definitive conclusion. In any case, while the question of whether the structure was man-made or natural was of interest, what connected it to Mr Hancock's global theories was the dating, for which there was no evidence. The programme-makers had talked to Professor Kimura, but had concluded that it would not have been fair to him to present him in the programme as a supporter of the man-made theory without making it clear that he did not support Mr Hancock's dating.

f) Atlantis/Antarctica

Mr Hancock said that the programme had erroneously stated that he had formulated a proposal that Atlantis was Antarctica, displaced to the South Pole by a massive shift in the earth's crust some 12,000 years ago. He had simply reported this theory to the programme team, but had told them "I don't need Antarctica" as his own research had moved on in a different direction.

The BBC said that the programme had intended to imply nothing more than that Mr Hancock had formerly adopted this theory. It had gone on to report, in Mr Hancock's own words, that he did not need Antarctica in order to explain his theories of a lost civilisation. Any discussion of Mr Hancock's position on earth crust displacement would have done him no kindness. The programme-makers were aware that Mr Hancock had cited the work of the geologist Dr Joseph Kirshvink to support his contention that there may have been a cataclysmic shift in the earth's crust around 10,500 BCE, a date which fitted Mr Hancock's theories. But, they said, Dr Kirshvink regarded this as a gross misuse of his research, which in fact showed a shift in the outer layers of the earth which would have taken between 10 and 30 million years.

g) Carbon-dating

Mr Hancock said that the programme had suggested that he was mistaken in his dating of monuments, as some of them had been carbon-dated to more recent periods. In his interview, he had explained his well-worked-out view on carbon-dating, which was that it was an unreliable tool as it could only date organic material and not stone monuments. However, his detailed arguments had not been included in the programme, which had only quoted him as saying of carbon-dating "I'm not required to be encyclopaedic". This had left the false impression that he either knew nothing about carbon-dating or was unaware of research in the field.

The BBC said that Mr Hancock's view was that carbon-dating evidence from megalithic sites could be ignored. It would not have helped his case had the programme used those parts of his interview where he had shown an "anti-scientific" and dismissive view of a well-established archaeological tool, whereby monuments could be dated in relation to the organic material within them.

h) "Intellectual fraudster"

Mr Hancock said that the programme had presented his person, methods and work to create the impression that he was an "intellectual fraudster" who had put forward "half-baked" theories in bad faith, and that he was incompetent to defend his own arguments. He had been assured by the programme-makers that they would be totally fair and that he would be given the opportunity to rebut the arguments of his critics. Instead, the programme had sought to destroy his reputation by a dishonest presentation which had been slanted in favour of the evidence against him. He had been depicted as "dogmatic" and "intolerant", a "believer" who never questioned his own theories. He had told the programme-makers that he was simply putting forward ideas for consideration and did not claim to possess all the facts. He had been made to look like a dubious and ignoble character who was only interested in selling a lot of books. The BBC had a right to test his theories, but the programme had been a "hatchet job".

The BBC said that Mr Hancock's work was unusually fertile of arguments and explanatory hypotheses, and it would have been impossible in the programme's short compass to trace each argument through all its rebuttals and counter-rebuttals. But the programme had given a fair impression of his claims, and how these stood up to dispassionate examination. It had not set out to convey this or that impression of his theories, but had left viewers to form their own judgments. There had been no intention to "personally attack" Mr Hancock, and the programme had not set out to create the impression that he was an "intellectual fraudster" or acting in "bad faith". It had dealt with the arguments even-handedly and on their merits, and with due awareness of the many other points which might have been made on both sides of the many disputed questions. It could not be comprehensive or exhaustive, and some lines of argument had been necessarily condensed or omitted in an effort to do justice to the remarkable range of Mr Hancock's theories. The programme-makers had had to exercise careful judgment on what essential evidence had to be included, and at what point each particular debate had to be closed. Mr Hancock had been interviewed at great length and a substantial part of the programme was made up of excerpts from his interview. As a broadcaster and writer himself, he was aware that his contribution would be edited. The programme-makers had sought to be fair to both Mr Hancock and his critics.

aa) Mr Bauval: No opportunity to respond to criticism

Mr Bauval said that he had originated the theory that the Giza pyramids were built to correlate with the Orion constellation as it appeared in the sky around 10,500 BCE, and he had explained the theory in his filmed interview for the programme. Dr Ed Krupp had ridiculed the theory by suggesting that the images of Giza and Orion in Mr Bauval's book The Orion Mystery were not the same way up, and you had to turn either the image of Egypt or that of the sky upside down to make the two match. Mr Bauval said that Dr Krupp had used a modern convention in mapping stars by having down and up denoted by south and north, a convention unknown to ancient Egypt. Other astronomers had published work rebutting Dr Krupp's position but they had not been referred to. Mr Bauval said that he had answered all Dr Krupp's criticisms in his filmed interview for the programme, but none of this material had been used.

The BBC said that the programme-makers had consulted astronomers whose researches were more up-to-date than that of astronomers Mr Bauval had cited. None of the astronomers they had consulted had supported Mr Bauval's argument. It had not been thought necessary to include Mr Bauval's own rebuttal of Dr Krupp's criticism as this had been covered by Mr Hancock's comment in the programme that Dr Krupp's view was "pedantic... nit-picking".

Mr Bauval said that the programme had included an interview with another astronomer, Dr Anthony Fairall, who had said that the angles of the Giza pyramids did not match those of Orion, the angle of the pyramids being 38 degrees and that of Orion's belt 50 degrees. The programme-makers had omitted his responses, despite an assurance that they would be included in the programme.

The BBC said that both Mr Bauval and Mr Hancock had acknowledged that there was some divergence between the angles, but both had insisted that this was irrelevant. Mr Bauval had said: "With Giza we are dealing not only with astronomical and mathematical correlations but also, and more so, with symbolic and artistic representations. Until this is understood and appreciated by the academics, they will continue to miss the point of what they are dealing with here". This was identical to Mr Hancock's view that the ancient Egyptians were primarily concerned to make a "pleasing symbolic resemblance". Mr Hancock's response had been included in the programme, so it had not been thought necessary to duplicate it by including the same point from Mr Bauval.

bb) Mr Bauval: a "con"

Mr Bauval said that, particularly in its use of Dr Krupp's contribution, the programme had implied that his correlation theory was a "con".

The BBC said that neither Dr Krupp nor the programme had made any such accusation or implication. There had been no intention to attack Mr Bauval. The programme had given a fair impression of his theory and had subjected it to dispassionate examination.

Evidence considered by the Commission

The Commission had before it complaint forms and supporting documentation from Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval, and written submissions from the BBC. It viewed the programme as broadcast and read a transcript. It also read the transcripts and viewed the unedited recordings of Mr Hancock's and Mr Bauval's interviews. The Commission held a hearing on Mr Hancock's and Mr Bauval's complaints, attended by Mr Hancock, Mr Bauval and his representative, and representatives of the BBC.

The Commission's Findings

The Commission considers that the programme-makers acted in good faith in their examination of the theories of Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval. On balance, and with the exception of the two points discussed below, the proponents were given a fair opportunity to explain their theories, which were then subjected to the comments and criticisms of experts with different views. The Commission does not consider that the programme implied that Mr Hancock was an "intellectual fraudster", or presented him as incompetent to defend his own arguments. Nor does it consider that the programme implied that Mr Bauval's theory was a "con". It therefore finds no unfairness to either Mr Hancock or Mr Bauval on these matters.

With regard to that part of the programme dealing with the Great Sphinx, the Commission does not consider that the programme-makers were under any obligation to include Mr Hancock's speculative interpretation of ancient Egyptian scriptures as demonstrating a knowledge of the Leo constellation. Nor does it consider the programme's use of the Manhattan analogy unfair, since it was used to make a cautionary point that selected dots can always be joined to make a required pattern, and it was made clear that Mr Hancock did not rely on correlation evidence alone to support his Atlantis theory. The Commission considers that, taken as a whole, both Mr Hancock's evidence for correlation and the evidence against it were well aired in the programme, and there was therefore no obligation to include a specific response on Manhattan. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Hancock on these matters.

On the question of a correlation between the Angkor temples and the Draco constellation, the Commission notes the BBC's acknowledgement that with hindsight it might have been preferable to have left out the speculation about the role of dragons in Khmer folklore. But it considers that, on the basis of their research, which had strongly suggested that the Draco constellation was unknown to the ancient Khmers, the programme-makers were justified in reporting the claims and counter-claims as they did. The Commission does not consider that the programme-makers were obliged to include Mr Hancock's suggestion that the Khmers had seen a serpent rather than a dragon in the stars, as this did not address the substantive point that the Draco constellation itself was unknown to them. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Hancock on this point.

On the age of the Great Sphinx, the Commission does not consider that the programme claimed or implied that Mr Hancock was the originator of the theory, based on calculations of rate of erosion, that the Sphinx is much older than most experts suppose. Given that Professor Schoch did not support Mr Hancock's dating, it would not have helped Mr Hancock's case had his views been included. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Hancock on this point.

On Yonaguni, the Commission considers that Mr Hancock's view that the under-water structure was man-made was fairly included, as was Professor Schoch's contrary view that it was probably a natural feature. It does not consider that the programme-makers were under any obligation to Mr Hancock to include an interview with Professor Kimura since, while he believed the structure was man-made, he did not agree with Mr Hancock's proposed dating. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Hancock in this regard.

The Commission does not consider that the programme claimed or implied that Mr Hancock had originated the theory that Atlantis had become Antarctica as a result of displacement of the earth's crust. It reported fairly that he had used the theory to support his own contentions, but had included his comment that he "didn't need" Antarctica to make his theory convincing. The Commission does not consider that it was necessary to name or interview Dr Kirshvink in Mr Hancock's support, as he strongly disagreed with Mr Hancock's interpretation and dating. The Commission therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Hancock in this regard.

On carbon-dating as a tool for dating monuments, the Commission notes that Mr Hancock gave his views in some detail in his filmed interview, but that none of his substantive points were included in the programme. However, Mr Hancock made clear in the programme that he did not consider carbon-dating a relevant means of dating ancient monuments. The Commission considers that it would have been preferable to have explored Mr Hancock's reasons in more detail, but recognises that there was little time to do so, given the many aspects of Mr Hancock's theories which were under discussion. On balance, the Commission finds that the programme's treatment of this aspect did not result in any significant unfairness to Mr Hancock.

With regard to the complaints by both Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval that the programme did not include their responses to criticisms of their arguments in favour of a correlation between the Giza pyramids and the Orion constellation, the Commission notes the following points. Both Mr Hancock and Mr Bauval offered detailed rebuttals of Dr Krupp's argument that the correlation could only be made to work by turning upside down either the image of Egypt or that of the sky. Both clearly regarded this matter as of particular importance. It was important to Mr Bauval because he had originated the proposal, and it was important to Mr Hancock because it was one of the lynchpins of his theory. The programme used only a brief comment by Mr Hancock and none of Mr Bauval's arguments.

In the case of Mr Hancock, the main part of his rebuttal used in the programme was the comment that Dr Krupp's upside-down argument was "a very pedantic and nit-picking and ungenerous attitude". The Commission considers that this left the impression that Mr Hancock had no substantive arguments to rebut Dr Krupp. Whilst mindful of the difficulties of including lengthy arguments on what was only one of many important matters in the programme, the Commission considers that the omission of Mr Hancock's arguments was not justified. It therefore finds that this was unfair to Mr Hancock.

In Mr Bauval's case, he too gave the programme-makers his rebuttal of Dr Krupp's criticisms in the expectation that the substance of it would be included in the programme. The Commission is not persuaded by the programme-makers' argument that their obligation to Mr Bauval was met by their inclusion of Mr Hancock's brief comments on Dr Krupp. As the originator of the Giza-Orion correlation theory, Mr Bauval had a reasonable expectation that his own views of Dr Krupp's argument would be included. They were not, and the Commission finds that this was unfair to Mr Bauval.

The Commission notes that the substance of Mr Bauval's response to Professor Fairall's points about divergent angles was that mathematical correlation was less important than "symbolic and artistic representation". Mr Hancock said in the programme that the correlation was more "a pleasing symbolic resemblance". Given that their views were virtually identical, the Commission considers that it was reasonable to let Mr Hancock speak for both of them, and therefore finds no unfairness to Mr Bauval on this point.

In summary, the Commission upholds that part of Mr Hancock's complaint dealing with Giza and Orion, and does not uphold other parts of his complaint. It upholds that part of Mr Bauval's complaint on the same issue, but does not uphold other parts.

Therefore both Mr Hancock's and Mr Bauval's complaints are upheld in part.

31 October 2000

Mr Strachan Heppell
Mr David Boulton
Rev. Rose Hudson Wilkin

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