A Response from the BBC

July 12, 2019

On Monday 8th July, we wrote an open letter to the BBC expressing our concerns in the lack of editorial balance of their recent documentary, ‘Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones’.

Yesterday, we received a response to our complaint from the BBC, which can be read in full below.

The response we received from the BBC is as disappointing as it is unsubstantial, having completely failed to address any of the matters we raised. We have instead been sent a generic response ‘to ensure [the BBC] use [their] licence fee resources as efficiently as possible.’

While we welcome the BBC’s desire to be efficient with licence fee revenue, its decision to respond to this complaint, as well as at least three others of which we have been made aware, with exactly the same bland response (which completely fails to address the points raised) is highly concerning.

We received the response the same day as the BBC Director General Lord Hall was speaking at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, in London. Lord Hall reportedly told the conference:

"We need to reassert the core principles of good journalism like never before. In a sea of disinformation and partisan reporting, we need to stand up for independence, impartiality, and reporting without fear or favour."

On behalf of our users, we cannot accept the below response as final from the BBC and will now take the next step in escalating our complaint.

We believe the questions we posed were worthy of a considered response and, if the BBC can justify spending the licence fee on something so factually incorrect as this programme, we feel they can certainly justify a little staff time providing a more substantive and considered reply.

Here’s the stock response we received:

Thank you for contacting us about ‘Horizon: Britain’s Next Air Disaster? Drones’.

We raised your concerns with the programme makers. To allow us to reply promptly to your concerns, and to ensure we use our licence fee resources as efficiently as possible, we’re sending this response to everyone who contacted us.

In the wake of the crisis at Gatwick Airport last year, and the strong public interest, the BBC’s flagship science strand ‘Horizon’ decided to investigate the latest technology behind drones and whether the safety measures around UK aviation are keeping pace with these advances.

Our programme investigates these issues in the public interest, to understand how best we can protect our airports and other vulnerable locations from the threat of potential drone misuse.

The continued relevance of this was highlighted again in the last couple of weeks when a spokesperson from the British Airline Pilots Association raised their concern with MPs that the threat to aircraft from drones is currently potentially underestimated.

Although the central drive of the film looks at the issues around safety and preventing potential misuse, from the outset and at several points during the programme the presenter Aldo Kane highlights the potential benefits of drone technology and the positive impact it can and will make in the future.

The film does not claim that drone technology is unsafe, but rather that it can be used maliciously when in the wrong hands. Indeed, as drone users ourselves, the BBC is well aware of the positive benefits of them when used appropriately.

Transformative technology such as drones will challenge many aspects of society and we believe it is important to provide the audience with rigorous scrutiny of new technology and an informed and intelligent analysis of the safety concerns that may raise.

The documentary is based on the very latest scientific research, and was made with advice from leading experts in drone security, technology, policy and legislation. We feel it provides an accurate and balanced reflection of the potential problems and solutions in this rapidly developing field of technology.

Please be assured that your comments have been added to the daily log which is circulated to senior programme makers and management.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team

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