An inaccurate news report produced by Sky News concerning drone related calls made by the public to UK police forces, and a subsequent copycat report by the Daily Telegraph, highlight the media’s apparent obsession with mere sensationalism over meaningful accurate reporting.
The so-called exclusive Sky News story published on the 23rd February, included a sub-heading which stated, ‘Forces receive more than 2400 reports of drone incidents in 2018 including criminal damage, harassment and voyeurism.’ The report went on to say, ‘Police Chiefs have warned drone users they will face “serious consequences” if they use the gadgets to commit crimes – with the number of reported incidents rising by 40% between 2016 and 2018.‘
Via freedom of information requests Sky News obtained drone call details from 20 Police Forces showing in Sky’s words, ‘2435 reports of drone incidents in 2018 – up 2% on 2017 (2377 incidents) and 42% higher than 2016 (1709 incidents).’
Four days before the Sky News report was published, I published details in this blog of drone calls logged by 24 Police Forces across the country in 2018, obtained via freedom of information requests that I had made. The data showed a rise from 3024 calls in 2017 to 3421 in 2018. Unlike the Sky News report my post provided a table of the number of calls received by each of the responding police forces. The table showed that 8 of the 24 forces actually had a drop in drone related calls being logged.
Sky News and the copycat Daily Telegraph report describe the calls as ‘incidents’. This is factually inaccurate. How can calls for example received from professional drone pilots telling the police where they will be flying be described as ‘incidents’? They cannot, and with there being a significant number of such calls logged, it points to both Sky and the Daily Telegraph being unconcerned about factual accuracy that might get in the way of a ‘good’, sensationalist story. The Sky report provides no inkling that some police forces have shown a decline a drone related calls, instead choosing to provide unbalanced sensationalist discussion of some of the specific calls made across a number of forces.
The real story, and the one that should have been reported and analysed, is that there appears from the data a slowdown in calls being made by the public in respect to drones. If there is a slowdown and perhaps a decline in the number of calls made then we need to consider what the factors might be for this development. We may ask for example whether leisure drone flyers are being more responsible? Perhaps alternatively there has been a decline in the leisure user flying of drones?
The Sky News report quotes Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Serena Kennedy, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on the criminal use of drones, stating, ‘Those who chose to use drones for a criminal purpose should be in no doubt that they face serious consequences and police will use all available powers to investigate and prosecute them.’ She continued, ‘We are currently working with government, the Civil Aviation Authority and others on future legislation to meet the challenges and risks posed by drones. At the same time all forces are working together to ensure consistency in the way these incidents are recorded and investigated.’
The fact that Serena Kennedy uses the word incidents could perhaps absolve Sky News as to its own use of the word. That however would seem generous, as it is not clear the precise context in which Kennedy uses the word, whether for example she is merely referring to the criminal use of drones.
A further point of interest is her reference to all police forces working together to ensure consistency in the recording and investigation of drone ‘incidents’ It is however questionable whether all forces are on board in achieving this aim. A feature of trying to obtain freedom of information data relating to drones from across all UK police forces is that there is no clear uniformity of practice. At best, some forces provide relatively good background detail on what specifically each call concerned, whilst other forces will only provide a number relating to a general police classification. At worst however, freedom of information requests for drone data are rejected because there is no easy searchable mechanism available, and with each record having to be gone through manually the cost involved enables the particular force to reject the FOI request. Without doubt, a uniform system would be significantly beneficial, enabling a much more accurate picture to be provided both regionally and nationally. It would also perhaps enable a more deeper questioning of why despite Serena Kennedy’s claims that the police will use all the powers available to them to prosecute offenders, to date in five years there have only been seven prosecutions for violations of the Air Navigation Order rules involving drones. This is surely a matter that a supposed professional media organisation should be reporting on rather than producing deliberately inaccurate sensationalism.