Did you see those live reports from the port city of Beira on BBC TV as Cyclone Idai swept into Mozambique?

No? That’s because the BBC appears to have had no-one in place as this destructive cyclone approached, despite knowing what was coming.

On Tuesday, 12th of March the Red Cross issued this warning. “This dangerous and powerful cyclone could pose an extreme risk to tens of thousands of people in Mozambique.

The BBC itself covered the approaching storm as it hit on Friday 15th.

BBC 15 March Storm warning

The BBC knew this disaster was coming but did it fly its crews into Mozambique?

I can find no evidence that it did.

Yet the cyclone was far more destructive than hurricane Michael that hit the USA last year.

Described by the BBC as having left “unimaginable destruction” its death toll was just 57.

Cyclone Idai may have killed more than 1,000 people in Mozambique, as President Filipe Nyusi said in an address on national radio on Monday 18th. Others will have died in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The BBC plays catch up

By Monday the BBC finally managed to get a report for its TV News from Shingai Nyoka. BBC News at Ten Monday 18 March 2019

Nothing wrong with her report – but it was from neighbouring Zimbabwe, not from Mozambique.

It was a pre-recorded story that was shown at 23 minutes past the hour on the BBC’s flagship nightly bulletin – the News at Ten  – on Monday 18th.

Clive Myrie News at Ten 18 March 2019How different from the live coverage from New Zealand’s Christchurch with a whole team, including presenter Clive Myrie.

This was on the same News at Ten  – but much earlier: at 8.30 minutes into the bulletin.

The coverage was starkly different.

BBC TV treated the 50 deaths in New Zealand as a major news event. The devastation of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, with perhaps 1,000 deaths, was clearly treated very differently.

Online coverage of the disaster

Compare the treatment by these news outlets of Cyclone Idai. All are taken from their  front pages at 23.00 on Monday 18 March 2019.

Perhaps the most scandalous is the coverage by the South African Broadcasting Corporation – the SABC – of the plight of its neighbours.

BBC  BBC Online 11.00 Monday 18 March 19

Channel 4

Channel 4 News 23.00 18 March 2019

 Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera 18 March 2019


CNN 23.00 March 18 2019

South African Broadcasting Corporation

SABC 23.00 18 March 2019

France 24


The Times

Times 23.00 18 March 2019

Voice of America

VOA News 23.00 18 March 2019

This critique is of BBC domestic coverage.

BBC World Service (for which I worked) would have been very different and I am sure the BBC African Service covered the story extensively.

But the BBC has a responsibility to its British audience which it cannot duck.