U.S. media defend drone journalism from federal government, arguing freedom of the press

On Tuesday, May 6, top media companies in the United States accused the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) of obstructing freedom of speech and of the press with its broad policies prohibiting the use of drones for newsgathering.

The 16 companies – which included the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett Co., Inc., Tribune Company and Hearst Corporation – filed a “friends of the court” brief before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in defense of Raphael Pirker, a drone hobbyist who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for shooting a promotional video of the University of Virginia with a drone.

Although no federal regulation exists on the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as drones, since 2007 the FAA has taken administrative actions to prohibit any use of this technology for business or commercial applications. The media outlets argued a complete ban misunderstands journalism as a purely commercial activity rather than a constitutionally-protected right to gather and disseminate news, covered in the First Amendment.

“This overly broad policy, implemented through a patchwork of regulatory and policy statements and an ad hoc cease-and-desist enforcement process, has an impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights of journalists,” the brief read.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), the fines against Pirker were dropped this last March after an NTSB judge decided the FAA did not have authority over small drones. The FAA responded to this by saying that anyone who flew an aircraft, “manned or unmanned,” needed their approval.

Neither Pirker nor the outlets that filed the brief are opposed to safety regulations related to drones, but rather to the “blanket ban” that stops U.S. citizens and media from adopting the new technology in any way. The FAA was tasked by the U.S. Congress to develop regulations for domestic drone use by the end of 2014, which could still impact the way news media report with drones. Media lawyer Nabiha Syed told CJR journalists could be required to receive pre-approval before using drones, which would make them useless for covering breaking news.

Forbes magazine contributor John Goglia, who writes about aviation safety, said he hoped this legal attack on the FAA would accelerate rulemaking that allowed some use of drones.

“The FAA’s failure to act has resulted in the drone industry in the U.S. lagging behind other countries,” Goglia said. “It’s hard to understand why our government would not want to be in the forefront of this new and exciting technology.”

Source:  Source: Journalism in The Americas

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