Last January, El Salvador newspaper La Prensa Gráfica became one of the nation’s first outlets to gather news with drones after purchasing three unmanned aerial vehicles, a pattern that other news media in Latin America are following, according to news website GlobalPost.
The Salvadoran outlet uses its drones primarily to shoot aerial video or photographs of big crowds gathered for events, long traffic jams, or even simply natural and artificial landmarks around the nation’s capital of San Salvador.
“The New York Times can’t do what they’re doing,” said Matt Waite, director of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “At least, not without any serious legal hassle.”
Other media outlets in El Salvador have started using drones, such as newspaper El Diario de Hoy and TV Channel 21, as well as other outlets across Latin America. In December, Peruvian newspaper El Comercio used a drone to record a fire in downtown Lima, while Mexican Grupo Reforma shot footage of student protest in the nation’s capital months earlier.
Though domestic drone use is currently allowed in these and other Latin American countries, ethical and legal questions of privacy still exist. GlobalPost notes that these concerns could be especially important in El Salvador, a “sharply partisan” country where drones could be used to invade private spaces for political purposes.
Matt Waite argued that privacy concerns are “overblown,” especially considering the short battery life of approximately 12 minutes most of these vehicles have.
“Safety of people on the ground is by far the most significant issue that journalists or anyone who flies these things will face,” Waite said.
He expressed a similar concern at last month’s International Symposium for Online Journalism (ISOJ), organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. However, he added that drones are ideal tools for capturing viewpoints that are otherwise unattainable, such as large-scale events like hurricanes, floods or other disasters.
Last week, several Arkansas-based journalists and media outlets used drones to cover the damage inflicted on the state by a massive tornado, which prompted an investigation by the FAA on these cases, though the agency has not taken any action against those involved up until now.
Source: Journalism in The Americas