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News media challenge FAA ban on UAV use

May 7, 2014, Washington, D.C. - More than a dozen media organizations challenged the government's ban on the use of drones by journalists Tuesday, saying the Federal Aviation Administration's position violates First Amendment protections for news gathering.


May 7, 2014
By The Associated Press

The organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a brief with
the National Transportation Safety Board in support of aerial
photographer Raphael Pirker. Pirker was fined $10,000 by the FAA for
flying a small drone near the University of Virginia to make a
commercial video in October 2011. He appealed the fine to the safety
board, which hears challenges to FAA decisions.

 

An administrative law judge ruled in
March that the FAA can't enforce its policy against all commercial use
of drones when the agency hasn't issued regulations for those uses. The
FAA has appealed the judge's decision to the full five-member safety
board. Agency officials have said they hope to issue regulations for the
use of small drones later this year.

 

The FAA won't currently
issue drone permits to news organizations. Officials have sent warning
letters to journalists found to have used small unmanned aircraft — most
of them no bigger than a backpack — to take photos and videos. The
agency suggested to one Ohio newspaper that it refrain from publishing
video of a burning building taken independently by a drone hobbyist,
even though hobbyists, unlike journalists, are permitted to fly drones,
according to the brief.

 

"The FAA's position is untenable as it
rests on a fundamental misunderstanding about journalism. News gathering
is not a 'business purpose.' It is a First Amendment right," the brief
said.

 

Media organizations are intensely
interested in using drones for photography and videos because they are
far less expensive to buy and operate than a manned airplane or
helicopter, and because their size and versatility provide visual
perspectives often not possible with manned aircraft.

 

Integrating unmanned
aircraft into the national airspace also has the potential to improve
the safety of reporting under less-than-ideal conditions, and unmanned
aircraft by their nature pose less risk than helicopters, the news
organizations said. Reports on traffic, hurricanes, wildfires, and crop
yields could all be told more safely and cost-effectively with the use
of unmanned aircraft, it said.

 

"This brief, filed by the country's
leading news organizations, supports the proposition we have argued that
federal agencies must consult with the public before banning the use of
new technologies that have many beneficial purposes," said attorney
Brendan Schulman, who is representing Pirker. "The argument becomes even
stronger when First Amendment considerations are taken into account."

 

Other media groups participating in the
brief are Advance Publications Inc., Cox Media Group, Gannett Co., Gray
Television Inc., Hearst Corporation, The McClatchy Company, the National
Press Photographers Association, The National Press Club, The New York
Times Company, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the
Radio-Television Digital News Association, Scripps Media Inc., Sinclair
Broadcast Group Inc., the Tribune Company and The Washington Post.

 

FAA officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.