In the 21st Century, the word ‘Drone’ is often associated with war, death and fear. So, what exactly is a drone? A drone, also known as a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), is an aircraft controlled by pilots from the ground (often utilizing a mobile app). There are numerous types of drones; basically they fall into two categories: those that are used for surveillance purposes and those that are armed with missiles and bombs. We need to focus on the surveillance aspect, instead of those drones being used in the theater of war.
About two years ago, drone journalism came into the public eye after an activist launched a small unmanned aircraft. He used the drone to fly over riot police to capture things his eyes could not. The photos were extraordinarily different from the photos we see in the news of the protest coverage. These images went viral and made its way into mainstream media.
This leads us to wonder-imagine if the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in 2011 were to be captured with the use of drones. News organizations accused the government of concealing the extent of the damage and the discharge of radiation, but were unable to challenge official figures. A drone equipped with an array of cameras and Geiger Counters (radiation detectors) would have provided a fast and cheap check on the official story and represented citizens’ interests.
A few months ago a drone was used to capture the atrocious ruins left in the wake of the Philippine typhoon-which left hundreds killed and thousands injured. Journalists were not able to get through, whereas the drone boasts the clear advantage of aerial photography-flying over revealing miles of devastation.
Projects at the universities of Nebraska and Illinois are also exploring drone development for journalism. Matt Waite, the founder of Drone Journalism Lab, a research project to determine the viability of remote airborne media, is leading the research.
Even though there are many pros to drone journalism there are many cons too. As Matt Waite said “While the technology is amazing and moving very rapidly, you are still talking about less than an hour of flight time (for) the drone I have, which is really a toy,”.Waite predicts that while the courts debate principles, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and privacy, “there’s going to be a lot of litigation”. It will be “at least five to seven years before those are settled matters” he added.
Waite believes that all of the major news stations will have drones the moment that they become legal. He believes that it will be up to the news organisations to be ethical and do the right thing when it comes to privacy.
There may be many hurdles to overcome for drone journalism, with privacy coming into the public eye following the Snowden leaks. Nonetheless, it highlights a fundamental fact-that the UAV indeed has potential beyond the battlefield it occupies today.