Major U.S. News Outlets See Freedom of Press Violation in FAA Drone Ban

Thursday, May 08, 2014
(photo: DroneCentre)

Sixteen major U.S. news organizations have filed a formal complaint with the federal government over the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ban on domestic drones for commercial use, claiming such a restriction violates freedom of the press.


Currently, the FAA authorizes only limited use of drones in U.S. airspace by government agencies, including law enforcement.


But The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and 10 other news outlets claim the FAA rule infringes on their First Amendment right to gather news, which should also involve using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), they argue.


“The FAA’s position is untenable as it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding about journalism,” the news organizations wrote in a brief filed with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). “News gathering is not a ‘business purpose.’ It is a First Amendment right,” they added.


The brief was filed with the NTSB because one of its administrative judges threw out a $10,000 fine against European drone entrepreneur Raphael Pirker for using a UAV over the University of Virginia three years ago to make a video. That dismissal is now being appealed by the FAA, which has asked the NTSB’s five-member board to review the ruling.


An Ohio newspaper was warned by the FAA not to use video of a structure fire taken from a drone run by a hobbyist even though hobbyists, unlike journalists, are allowed by the agency to operate the aircraft.


The FAA also faces a legal challenge to its policy in federal court, where a nonprofit search-and-rescue group, Texas EquuSearch, is suing to overturn the FAA’s order for the group to cease using drones to locate missing people.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Journalism Groups Accuse FAA of Limiting Their Rights by Banning Drone Use (Agence France-Presse)

News Media Support Challenge to FAA Ban on Journalism Drones (Associated Press)

Journalism-by-Drone Provides New Fodder for Drone Debate (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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