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Politics, media, internet - which will win?

2 May 2019

As I mentioned in yesterday's column, things are getting pretty crazy in the UK.

Not only do they intend to tax and regulate out of existence, a hobby that has played a pivotal role in the development of the jet engine and man's first landing on the moon - but they're also going to charge taxpayers an absolute fortune in the process.

Something has to be done.

Unfortunately, the hobby and people in general are so disorganised that nothing *effective* will be done unless someone takes on these issues and applies some serious thinking and strategy to sorting out the mess.

Well folks, although I live half a world away and am "just one old guy", I'm seriously thinking of wearing my undies on the outside and seeing if I can help sort this mess out.

This will be a battle involving politicians, the media and the internet. Can you pick the winner?

Last night the BMFA (British Model Flying Association), an organisation that has been around even longer than the UK CAA, issued what amounts to a call to arms within the ranks of its members.

They are quite rightly worried that the CAA's moves to impose age restrictions and a hefty tax on RC model fliers will spell the end of the hobby as we know it. They also realise that if nothing is done to counter these initiatives they and their membership will gradually dwindle and disappear (as if the current "greying out" wasn't bad enough).

Their strategy is an old and pretty much proven ineffective one of "write to your MP".

Nah... that's not going to work.

Given that the BMFA has less than 40,000 members in a country of 66 million people, even if every single one of those members did write to their MP (and you know that most won't), the result would be statistically invisible on your average MP's radar.

The BMFA, in my opinion, have not properly identified the problem and therefore their proposed countermeasure will likely be totally ineffective. MPs get hundreds of letters every day from lobby groups, businesses, little old ladies, clubs and other groups. The odd missive from a disgruntled flier of toy planes isn't going to spur them into action so as to crusade on behalf of a hobby like model flying.

For model fliers in the UK to win this battle they have to first identify what the real problem is and then engage some leverage to mitigate that problem.

Here's what I'm considering...

Firstly, the UK government and the media has pitched this tax (aka license) as a "drone license".

All the media coverage I've seen has had prominent use of the word "drone", along with pictures of easily recognised multi-rotor craft, usually made by DJI.

As a result of years of brainwashing and misinformation by the media, the public attitude towards recreational drone use is very much negative. I've seen many surveys where the overwhelming response from members of the public is that they should be banned or severely restricted because they're dangerous and invade people's privacy.

As a result of this, the public is also widely in favour of drone licensing.

What the vast majority of the public do not realise is that CAA has decided that everything weighing between 250g and 20Kg that is capable of sustained flight is now classified as a "drone". This includes the very types of models which have been flown safely for decades -- without endangering airliners or without posing a privacy risk to the general public.

The public have nothing against model aircraft, in fact they still perceive that it is a wonderful thing when a child flies a toy plane over a grassy field.

The media and the CAA have, perhaps deliberately, performed a con-job on the general public by not making it very clear that "drone" includes "model aircraft" and that this license as well as the age-restrictions essentially threaten this healthy recreational pastime.

So, the best strategy for the BMFA is not to waste members' time writing to MPs as a group of less than 40,000 -- but instead, to use the very thing that has created this problem in the first place... the media.

Whilst the media loves a sensationalist "hundreds almost killed when drone nearly hits airliner" story -- I'm betting that they'd also love to chase the money involved in stories that show "hobby under threat by greedy politicians" and "is this the end of the UK's aerospace industries?"

The BMFA and its members have to come up with some really creative storylines to feed the media. They need to remind the media that if it wasn't for the hobby of model aircraft, Sir Frank Whittle may not have developed the passion for aviation that resulted in the invention of the jet engine. If it were not for a childhood spent flying model aircraft, Neil Armstrong may not have placed man's first footprint on the moon. Etc, etc.

Through the media, the model-flying hobby has an ability to shape public opinion (just as public opinion against drones has been forged by countless hysteria stories). The 40,000 members of the BMFA count for nothing -- but 66 million people spurred on by media stories that lament the slaying of a peaceful and educational pastime that has contributed so much to the nation's fortunes and survival counts for a lot.

Politicians are fickle creatures and if the mass of public opinion is brought to bear, they will capitulate and exempt model aircraft from this silly drone licensing system.

So, this is where I come in.

I shall be trying to convince the BMFA (through its members) to start feeding the media irresistible storylines so as to start swaying public opinion in favour of the hobby.

But wait.. there's more...

The one thing this hobby is missing is global representation. Each country has its own national body (or two) but there is no global umbrella organisation to coordinate efforts on a world-wide scale. That, in my opinion, is a huge failing.

So... I will attempt to recruit support from around the world for the plight of UK model fliers -- and that's where the internet comes in.

Through my YouTube channels, I intend to try and get some coordinated pan-global action going on. This is the kind of thing the media can not ignore. What's more, it is very important that every country plays its part because we're seeing a creeping wave of regulation and taxation that is sweeping the planet. An increasing number of countries are already demanding the registration of drones -- without any acknowledgement that the hobby of model flying is not part of the problem they're seeking to address. Therefore, by supporting this initiative in the UK, they are also serving to protect the future of the hobby in their own country.

So there we have it... it's a contest between politicians (cute but dumb), the media (who will do anything for a dollar) and the internet (which remains, at least for the time being a tool anyone can use).

I'd like some feedback from readers on this one.

Am I biting off more than I can chew? (almost certainly)

Is this a battle that can be won? (call me Don Quixote)

If we do win, is this just another excuse for those in power to see the internet as an offensive weapon that threatens their omnipotence? (paranoia anyone?)

Will unity save the hobby or is it doomed?

Write your answers on the back of a $100 note -- or perhaps just leave a comment in the forums :-)

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