The BBC Spent Too Much Time Covering Mandela's Death, According to 850 Brits

The BBC received 850 complaints from viewers who felt that the corporation devoted too much time to Nelson Mandela. Several criticized the BBC's decision to interrupt a sitcom re-run to break the news of Mandela's death.

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The BBC received 850 complaints from viewers who felt that the corporation devoted too much time covering Nelson Mandela's death on Thursday and not enough time on the weather,  according to The Guardian. Several of those complaints also criticized the BBC's decision to interrupt a re-run of Mrs. Brown's Boys, a comedy about a loud Irish matriarch played by a man in drag, to break the news of his death. That evening a strong storm hit Britain's eastern coast, causing at least two dozen deaths and forcing the evacuation of 15,000 people from their homes. The Guardian called it, "the worst storm surge for more than 60 years."

BBC News director James Harding issued an apology on Thursday night. "Firstly I'm sorry if there are people who felt we didn't inform them of what was happening in the weather," he said, addressing the grievance while also, slightly, belittling it. He continued:

The decision-making is one around the significance of Nelson Mandela. Nobody needs a lecture on his importance but we are probably talking about the most important statesman, the most significant statesman, of the last 100 years, a man who defined freedom, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness. The importance of his life and marking his death seems extremely clear to us.

The weather did not exactly go uncovered by the BBC. As its online coverage noted, the Red Cross had to rescue people from flooded homes, a truck driver died when his vehicle was knocked over by the wind, and there was severe property damage. Here's a TV segment and a live blog. And it's understandable that people would be more concerned about their own immediate safety than Mandela's death, even if they appreciate his legacy. Harding acknowledged as much.

Less understandable are the complaints about Mrs. Brown. For those not familiar with the show, it follows an Irish widow played by a middle aged man. "Funny, outspoken and never at a loss for words (especially profanity), she gets through life and the daily grind with a caustic remark and a loving wink," reads the IMDB synopsis. Basically, it sounds like an Irish version of a Tyler Perry show. The BBC ended the re-run (!) of Mrs. Brown ten minutes early to air the Mandela news.

Of course, there are already counter arguments being written in defense of the Mrs. Brown fans. Ross McGuinness argued at Metro that the BBC should have just waited 10 minutes for the nightly news to announce that the first black president of South Africa had died. "Those watching Mrs Brown are within their rights to expect the entire show to be broadcast, regardless of whether or not the rest of the world thinks their programme is a load of crap," McGuinness wrote. "The BBC can tell them about Mandela’s death at 10 p.m. Or on their news channel."

But even McGuinness can't take the show, or his argument, completely serious. He sums it up the experience of the show as "'watching an Irishman in a blue cardie and a dress dancing around like a complete eejit.'" With that sort of review it's hard to fault the BBC for its programming choice.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.