Altitude Angel slams BBC for “lack of editorial balance” in latest open letter on drone programme

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Altitude Angel has written a letter to BBC director general Tony Hall in criticism of its representation of drones.

It focused on last week’s Horizon programme, ‘Britain’s next air disaster? Drones.’

The letter describes a “lack of editorial balance” in the programme and a “flagrant disregard of the BBC’s own impartiality guidelines.”

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Signed by Stephen Farmer, head of corporate communications, the letter describes Altitude Angel as a company which does not generally involve itself in the politics of drones.

However, it goes on to detail how “this serious failing of the BBC’s obligations (as we view them, and have set out below) has the potential to bias important regulatory work now being undertaken not just here, in the United Kingdom, but across the world” as the reason for involving itself.

See the letter in full here:

Dear Lord Hall,

RE: BBC HORIZON PROGRAMME, “BRITAIN’S NEXT AIR DISASTER? DRONES”

Further to the programme ‘Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones’ which first aired on Monday 1st July 2019, I write to express our extreme disappointment at the lack of editorial balance in the programme, the flagrant disregard of the BBC’s own impartiality guidelines, and the creative licence given to the filmmakers in what is meant to be a documentary.

We believe this programme failed to meet the BBC’s own editorial guidelines1 and failed to meet the standards expected of the BBC by viewers of the Horizon programme. From the start, it clearly seeks to position drone technology as a threat. To clarify, any technology has the potential to be a threat. To vilify this one, which has delivered vaccines to sick children in Vanuatu (work supported by UNICEF), helped the police to find vulnerable missing persons, and might one day play an extremely significant part in helping to transform lives and revolutionise businesses, is anything but impartial.

In general, and at best, this programme paid lip-service to both the safety record of drone use and drone pilots, as well as the efforts drone manufacturers, drone pilots, airports and air navigation service providers are going to in order to keep our skies safe while managing the introduction of drones.

Further, this programme is damaging to the UK’s economic interests because it affects viewers’ perception of drone technology, which in turn could very well affect how quickly drone technology will be accepted into everyday life. PwC estimate the UK drone industry has the potential to increase to £42 billion by 2030. In the current political climate, the UK’s economy needs the investments (and cost savings offered by drones) of drone companies.

Much of the programme presented anecdotal accounts, incidents and ‘reported near-misses’ as fact or evidence drones had come close to causing an incident but the programme’s researchers make liberal use of UK Airprox Board (UKAB) reports about drone sightings to back up the ‘dangerous drones’ undertone, and neglect to mention any pilot can file a report, or that a recent Freedom of Information Request revealed that 80% of airprox reports as misclassified by the UKAB, according to Airprox Reality Check.

As a company, we generally do not involve ourselves in the politics of drones, but this serious failing of the BBC’s obligations (as we view them, and have set out below) has the potential to bias important regulatory work now being undertaken not just here, in the United Kingdom, but across the world. In addition, we feel it is important to add our voice in representing our 150,000 UK drone pilots who we know are conscientious and pioneering in their early adoption, a good percentage of whom feel badly let down by this piece, too.

It is for these reasons we felt compelled to write to you, and why we will be filing official complaints through both Ofcom and the BBC’s official channels.

We set out below our primary objections and welcome your feedback, which shall be published on our website.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Farmer

Head of Corporate Communications, Altitude Angel

This follows DJI’s correspondence last week, which can be read in full here:

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