The drones have landed with journalists exploiting rapid technological advances as an innovative way of using aerial platforms for news gathering. Their use easily elevates the way in which news is reported, allowing for an increased accessibility to aerial footage and reporting. This new media tool has raised controversial debate regarding, legality, practicality and ethicality in its application in the journalism industry.
As a relatively new concept, the legal scholarship on this subject is still developing. In Australia, drone use for news gathering is purely restricted to CASA approved operators under UAV operating regulations. Currently, no media organisations have approval to operate drones in Australia; but many organisations like ABC-TV hire officials for aerial filming.
The use of drones have the potential to create compelling and fantastic news stories for major conflict, civil unrest and disaster coverage. Granted their convenience, drone journalism can be considered to be a legitimate interference in aircraft space in disaster scenes or in times of crisis. Drone journalism also offers a chance for abuse, especially in terms of safety and privacy.
In 2011, News Corporation established The Daily, a tablet based digital news service, that was heavily criticised for intrusiveness and privacy concerns by the public.
Drone use has created a new ethical minefield. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists (PSDJ) provides a code of ethics for drone journalism in Australia. It presents an ethical hierarchy as an additional layer to the traditional code presented by the MEAA in matters of news worthiness, safety, sanctity of law and public spaces, privacy and traditional ethics. Its reliability and effectiveness is questioned transcending Aristotle’s Golden Mean, relying on the inference of an individual to act accordingly.
The use of drones offers considerable advantages for journalists in news gathering and production. Albeit in its use, journalists should be mindful of the legal, safety and ethical implications that coincide and heed the ramifications it has on society.