Winterval: the Christian media has more questions to answer than local councils

It’s become a seasonal cliché of British journalism. In the run-up to Christmas there is a flurry of stories about political correctness gone mad as the word Christmas is left to one side by local councils in particular as festive lights get switched on, celebrations run and greetings cards sent out. Following hard on the heels of the flurry of stories is a series of much less noticed debunking of many of them. But why let the facts get in the way of the annual season of such stories?

This year, in fairness to the media (and perhaps partly a reflection of the growing power of blogs to embarrass journalists who find their names and errors plastered over the internet for their colleagues and friends to find?*) there have been not very many such stories so far. Probably the highest profile one – over the Christmas cards sold by the Conservative Party – did have the journalistic justification of being about the Conservatives being willing to make money out of selling the sorts of cards that David Cameron had previously mocked.

But the big exception to this more positive media outlook has been the Christian media, where I’ve found a series of examples of stories about Christianity being under threat where accuracy has been missing and the outlet has been unresponsive to messages pointing out mistakes.

First example: which wrongly states, “Birmingham City Council has changed the name of this year’s light-switching-on event to the generic ‘Winterval.'” (no, that’s not a story about this year nor last year nor the year before; it’s essentially a limited incident from a decade ago which involved mentioning Christmas anyway). The story also claims that “Councils around Britain are removing all references to the name “Christmas” from their 2009 events” without any supporting evidence (perhaps not surprising, because it isn’t true that councils are doing things different from the past – even in the case of Dundee Council, on which see below).

Second example: Catholic Online which ran the same erroneous stories about Birmingham and Dundee as highlighted by Martin Belam, who expertly pulled about the Birmingham Winterval story.

Third example: which wrongly claimed that, “Dundee City Council has come under fire for removing all references to Christmas from this year’s festive light switch-on ceremony.” The main evidence this story isn’t true? See the 175 references to Christmas I counted up, though Dundee Council’s response to the story was not as clear as it could have been. (This story was also run by The Times, which hasn’t responded to my email nor has it corrected its story.**)

Fourth example: Christian Today also ran the same erroneous story about Dundee.

Fifth example: the Christian Institute, who ran an inaccurate story about Dundee Council and also about Rochdale Council (a story that was thoroughly debunked several months earlier by The Guardian).

Martin Belam recounted counting Catholic Online, without getting a response (though the story was slightly changed, leaving the error remaining in the body of the story however). I’ve also tried contacting two of the other outlets mentioned above, in both cases without response and without the stories changing.

So is the story really about Winterval and the politically correct brigade? I think not. The story is about some Christian media outlets running wrong stories.

A cheery footnote mind you: only 37 people signed this myth inciting petition.

* I’ve been struck by the number of journalists, by no means all on publications with stunning records of accuracy and correction, I’ve spoken with in the last few months who do seem to be genuinely moved by such factors.

** Note for Baroness Buscombe: you see, this is the sort of thing that makes so many bloggers dismissive of the idea that they should have the same standards as the mainstream media.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Andrew Suffield 27th Nov '09 - 11:39pm

    Have to say, I’ve found several major media outlets (including the Times, Guardian, and BBC) to be quite poor at correcting their facts. I frequently see news stories quoting statistics or new scientific research papers, go and look up the research behind them, and find that the actual data does not match what was published. I very rarely get any kind of reaction when I write in to point this out.

  • Herbert Brown 28th Nov '09 - 1:14am

    Probably the best thing is simply to disbelieve anything you see in the newspapers.

    There was a case in point today. The BBC reported the alarming news that in the last week there had been a huge increase in the number of deaths from swine flu – “Europe saw an 85% increase in the week, with the total number of deaths rising from at least 350 to at least 650”.

    The source was the WHO, which admittedly ought to have been reliable enough, but if they had troubled to check these figures they would soon have realised that something was very wrong with them. Last week the number of deaths so far in the UK, France and Spain alone totalled nearly 380. Those three countries account for less than a quarter of Europe’s population, and it’s known that there has been a heavy death toll elsewhere – for example, earlier this week the Guardian reported that there had been “up to 400” deaths in the Ukraine alone.

    Sometimes one wonders what journalists get paid for, when it’s so easy for anyone with access to the Internet to pick holes in their work.

  • Simon Wilson 2nd Dec '09 - 10:06am

    Christmas lights have alot to do with Christianity as Jesus was and is seen as being the “light of the world”

  • I read this and think, this is ALL written in Gods Word.Things are rising up against the Creator yet Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished”!God has already won!You think that u can take God out of the World by taking away our “religious” freedom by Christs death being universally celebrated and recognised, but oh HOW wrong u are!Jesus is REAL, He is NOT a religion!so no matter how much u want to diminish the presence of God, He can NEVER be taken out of His children!He owns each one of us, even you who wrote this article, you who have NO idea about the Majesty of the God you are talking about.Is your attack on this Christmas-Winterval saga really down to “Christian media outlets running incorrect info”?i laugh!the first links that come up on Google are hard facts that this IS what HAS already happened in Burmingham!Maybe you should ask yourself why you are trying so hard to fight God?Do you not question WHY is it that He is so Universal?..maybe its because Hes REAL, and Jesus really was.

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