Dr David Goldberg is a member of the Advisory Board of the Information Law and Policy Centre. He has recently authored the following:  ”Journalism, drones, and law” in A. Koltay (ed), Comparative Perspectives on the Fundamental Freedom of Expression (Wolters Kluwer 2015);  ”Droning on About Journalism: Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Newsgathering” in A. Završnik (ed), Drones and Unmanned Aerial Systems (Springer 2015);  “Dronalism: Journalism, Remotely Piloted Aircraft, Law and Regulation” in Florida International University Law Review, Vol 10 (2); and  “Regulators Should let ‘Dronalism’ Take Off” in Media Asia December 2015. In 2013, he co-authored Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems and Journalism (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). In this guest post, he argues in favour of the use of drones in journalism.
Hands up who has heard of John Silva? Not many, I bet! Silva was chief engineer for Los Angeles station KTLA-TV. In 1958, he outfitted a helicopter with a TV camera and changed television news coverage forever. Fast forward 50+ years and a drone/remotely piloted aircraft (the issue of what to call the gizmos is so yesterday) is simply an analogous newer bit of kit in a (photo) journalist’s toolbox.
In my opinion, drones both can and should be allowed to be used inter alia for the purposes of newsgathering, journalism and media production: should because basically they assist newsgathering. In itself, the drone is nothing, it’s just a flying donkey. It’s what you strap on to it, e.g., a camera or data sensor, that makes a drone useful in the context of journalism/newsgathering (aka “dronalism”). As such, its deployment is protected under Article 10 ECHR (the only drone application to engage a human right?), because its use, just like a camera, for street photography facilitates newsgathering. Overly precious concerns about a subject’s identity disclosure using a device which might be difficult to spot would do well to defer to the 2015 decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Haldimann and Others v Switzerland, which found for journalists using covert filming techniques.
More generally, it has become something of a cliché to say that 2016 is the “year of the drone”. But, less reported (actually, not at all?) than yet-another-scare-story (is the industry even approached for a quote in those cases?) is the ongoing government-initiated “Public Dialogue on the use and deployment of drones in the UK”. In due course, the conclusions will be posted here (the full report is likely to be published in June). For now, one industry insider reports back from a recent cross-government working group on remotely piloted aircraft meeting:
“‘The public’s overwhelming feeling is they are excited by drone technology, they are not concerned by state, military or commercial use as ‘they know what they are doing’”.
The category of concern is the recreational/consumer user and not even the hobbyist who is likely to be a member of a group or club with a sense and culture of professionalism and rule-following.
To return, finally, to dronalism, here’s a thought: it doesn’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories! As the amicus curiae brief by News Media in the US National Transportation Safety Board Huerta v Pirker litigation states, “the publication of news is not a ‘commercial’ activity comparable to the sale of goods and services”. That activity and the activities pursuant to it are protected – that conclusion should hold whether with regard to US constitutional concerns or the European fundamental rights regime.