The use of drones in journalism is still a new concept, but it is quickly evolving. With the potential to capture previously impossible footage, they are certainly set to be the next essential tool for every journalist. In fact, two programs already exist in US universities; The Drone Journalism Lab, founded in late November 2011 by Matt Waite, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the Drone Journalism Program at the University of Missouri.
The use of drones in journalism entered the mainstream media in February 2011 when a Polish activist flew a small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over police lines to record a violent demonstration in Warsaw. This resulted in pictures that were extremely different from the usual protest coverage, and the images went viral.
As well as being able to film footage, on board sensors are able to collect data on crowds, environmental impact, etc.
The potential UAVs have is huge. Imagine being able to fly over a warzone and capture exactly what is going on. Or fly over a polluted lake and instantly send back corresponding data. Many people believe that the public have a right to this information. The ‘Professional Society of Drone Journalists’ is one such example. They are dedicated to ‘establishing the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism’. They outline their code of ethics in the following table:
The most important ethical guideline centres on newsworthiness. PSDJ believes “the investigation must be of sufficient journalistic importance to risk using a potentially harmful aerial vehicle”.
This ethical consideration essentially speaks out against drones being used for tabloid purposes. Drones have the ability to quickly and discreetly pry into the lives of “Hollywood’s A list”, shots that are worth millions to paparazzi magazines. The comparatively small fine for misuse of the drone would be a small price to pay. However, Professor Waite makes the point that “the paparazzi already use helicopters and other vehicles to get photos… Is this any more of a privacy invasion than paparazzi already are?”
While “sanctity of law and public spaces” is included in the hierarchy of ethics, the public’s right to information is favoured above legislation “in instances where journalists are unfairly blocked from using drones to provide critical information in accordance with their duties as members of the fourth estate”. The PSDJ believes that “the public’s access to information is limited when journalists are barred from the sky”.
As it currently stands, UAVs are legal for commercial use in Australia. However using them for journalistic purposes can often bring up the legal issues of trespass, nuisance, privacy and confidentiality, and challenges for aviation authorities. Drone pilots are also requires to stay within a visual line of sight of their vehicle, and there are restrictions on height and speed.
Drone journalism has already made a huge impact on society and it continues to grow as we learn more about UAVs. Being able to access information that was previously impossible to obtain has great potential for a more informed public.
For a better understanding of drones in journalism and society, check out our recent blog post: Drone Journalism: When Drones Make the News and subscribe to our newsletter for more news and updates on UAVs.
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