At about high tide on the east coast on the evening of December 5, as waves beat against the sea defences, water flooded on to roads and into houses and thousands of people were evacuated from their fragile homes, something world-shattering happened.
Nelson Mandela died.
Immediately the BBC went into auto-news mode. All resources were switched to covering the death of a world statesman, all the ready-to-air snippets painstakingly gathered over recent years were assembled, shuffled and placed into order.
Within minutes, it was clear that nothing else was happening. Anchorman Martyn Lewis switched on all his gravitas and assured us solemnly that this story was going to be covered from all possible angles. We sighed. World leaders were going to say roughly the same thing, though sadly not at the same time. Ordinary people like you and I were going to have stories to tell.
I have the greatest admiration for Nelson Mandela. I also admire the way that the BBC is able to provide us with in-depth information about significant world figures. But I think they are muddled about what is news and what isn’t.
Mr Mandela was not assassinated. He did not die unexpectedly. He had been ill, and then he died.
We needed to be told this as part of a news programme, probably the lead item. Depending on what else was happening, this could have been expanded on as part of the news, and then a dedicated programme could have been aired sooner rather than later. With time to prepare such a programme properly, much of the repetition, hesitation and deviation could have been eliminated.
Instead, the BBC took the easy but totally wrong option of ditching everything else, pretending that Mr Mandela’s death was the ace of trumps, and everyone else could throw in their cards.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people (possibly millions) were switching on the news to try to find out what was happening during what the BBC themselves had told us was the biggest storm surge in 60 years.
There was huge risk to property and human life. We all wanted to know what had happened when that high tide point had been reached during gale-force winds.
The BBC was not interested. Nothing on the national news, and the local news was bumped back to a mere ten minutes half an hour late. This from an organisation that had been telling us constantly to tune in to keep up to date with what was happening.
Mr Mandela’s death, we were told, was breaking news. No, it was broken news. It had already happened. The east coast storm surge was breaking news – a real, live, dramatic story where the outcome was totally unpredictable.
This kind of thing is usually done well by the BBC. It would have been disappointing if it had been done badly. But it shows ludicrous lack of judgement that it was not done at all.