BBC Forced To Retract False Claims About Cyclone Pam

  • Date: 11/08/15
  • Paul Homewood, Not A Lot Of People Know That

After three months and much stubborn arrogance from them, the BBC have finally been forced to retract one of their lies about Cyclone Pam, which devastated Vanuatu in March.


As readers may recall, I pointed out that their above claim of 300km/h winds was fallacious and grossly misleading in an attempt to compare the storm with Typhoon Tip, the most intense, and arguably the strongest, typhoon on record. The intent of the piece was clear – to suggest that Cyclone Pam was one of the worst on record.

As I mentioned at the time, the 1-minute sustained wind speed of Pam was much lower at 268 kph. The 1-minute speed is the one officially used by the JTWC, but more importantly was also the basis for the 300 km/h for Tip.

So, my first complaint went in to the BBC, pointing out their factual inaccuracy and asking for a correction. Their reply was sheer arrogance:

We have checked with our reporter who said the wind speed figure came from news wires at the time, which reported speeds of up to 300km/h.

We note other media outlets were reporting the same speed:

In other words, it was alright to tell lies because the Guardian were telling the same ones!

Understandably unhappy with this response, I resubmitted my complaint. (With the BBC complaints system, you can’t just say “I am unhappy”, you have to totally resubmit the complaint again. This is undoubtedly the BBC’s way of discouraging complainers).

After two months of having heard nothing (another BBC trick), I emailed their Complaints Manager, who apologised. A few days later, their official response arrived, but they still refused to correct or clarify:

May we firstly apologise for the delay in response, due to an administrative error.

In the article you cite, we reported the speeds of “up to 300km/h”.

While you give the figure for sustained wind speed, at the time the Fiji Meteorological Service was talking about gusts of up to 335km per hour, as reported here:

There are various measures of wind speed – 10-minute sustained, one-minute sustained and gusts – and we have not stated which specific method is referred to here, but the figure you cite does not make our figure inaccurate

At this stage, to take the complaint further, you have to request a review from the BBC Trust, which I did. I made the point that to use one type of measurement to compare with a totally different one was totally unacceptable and misleading.

It seems the Trust agreed, because they replied:

I am sorry for the delay in responding to you. We have reviewed the correspondence relating to your appeal and after looking into this matter in some detail, we wanted to discuss your complaint with BBC News. They have advised that they would like to respond to you again.

I appreciate that you may prefer the Trust to deal with your complaint but the BBC’s complaints framework stipulates that complaints must be dealt with by the Executive in the first instance and they have the right to respond to you further if you are dissatisfied with their initial response. 

I hope that the further response from the BBC will address all your concerns but if you remain dissatisfied it is, of course, open to you to appeal to the Trust. Please note you will need to do this within 20 working days of the receipt of the final response from BBC News.

Evidently they knew that this was one case they could not win, and, rather than have a Trust decision going against the BBC, decided to give BBC News another chance to correct.

Within a week, they capitulated:

In the light of your correspondence with the BBC Trust about the relative speeds of Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Tip, we have agreed to review the matter.

Following discussions with the Trust, we have revised the figures in the graphic on this page to make clear which are specifically comparable figures.


Of course, the problems with all of these sort of complaints against the BBC is that, although they may agree to correct weeks later, nobody is likely to notice. It is the original, erroneous information which is seen and remembered.

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