Article by: Mickey H. Osterreicher

2014 PEPP. L. REV. 76 (2015)

News organizations and individual journalists eagerly anticipate safely utilizing Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) for newsgathering purposes as lawmakers integrate sUAS into the National Air Space (NAS). For now, these potential users may be flying over an “unchartered” regulatory landscape while the FAA struggles to complete its administrative rulemaking.

In order to better understand how media organizations and individual journalists intend to use sUAS for newsgathering purposes, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) developed a survey consisting of twenty-one multiple choice questions, with space for elaboration, and three questions seeking narrative responses.
The survey was distributed via email to approximately fifty news organizations and media associations. There were 680 responses, mostly from those identifying themselves as “journalists,” with the next largest group being news managers. Others responding to the survey include attorneys, academicians, and students. The survey began on February 3, 2014 and remained open until March 13, 2014. The survey answers provide a first-of-its-kind study of this subject.

This paper, which was originally presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) in Orlando, Florida, in May 2014, introduces the reader to a brief history of manned flight and photography, leading with the natural progression of the two technologies, to sUAS use for newsgathering. The paper explores the ups and downs of current and proposed FAA policies and regulations regarding sUAS use. Other issues addressed include: state legislation as well as some recent incidents and cases involving sUAS. Also examined are some of the proposed requirements found in the FAA’s UAS Comprehensive Plan and the FAA Roadmap for Integration of Civil UAS in the NAS.

Past privacy debates may be prologue to the present discussion when pondering new rules and legislation. The historical debates between privacy concerns on the one hand and newsgatherers’ use of emerging technologies on the other are also examined.

The paper also explores how journalists may better understand and participate in the rulemaking process as well as proposals for striking an appropriate and acceptable balance between First Amendment protected newsgathering activities and privacy concerns.

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