10 Jan 2017

New Government Policy For Drone Journalism


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) more commonly referred to as drones for commercial and private use has grown exponentially recently, and especially as restrictions around airspace have been relaxed after the end of the war. The Ministry is aware of footage taken by drones, by citizens as well as tourists visiting Sri Lanka, widely available across social media as online video platforms. We recognise that many events today in their promotional material or live coverage feature the use of drones, and we also note their use in health applications,precision agriculture practices (smart farming), the coverage of public rallies, the aftermath of natural disasters, around disaster risk reduction, sporting events and private functions like weddings and parties.

Given the increasing availability of high-end consumer drones in Sri Lanka, the manufacture of sophisticated drones within the countryand with their purchase price dropping, the Media Ministry expects their use in commercial and recreational purposes, including in the field of journalism,to keepgrow rapidly.Accordingly, the Media Ministry fully supports the use of drones by journalists and media personnel in pursuit of their professional news gathering operations and coverage of events, places and processes. However, given a rapidincrease in usage and the evolving nature of drone technology, the Ministry’s primary responsibility is to ensure usage of drones for journalism is in compliance with existing rules and regulations, as well as conducted in a manner that is, above all else, safe, ethical and respects the privacy of citizens.

In this respect, media reports over recent months, from coverage around the exhumation of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge’s body in Colombo to the coverage of the unrest in Hambantota recently, have focussed on the use of drones by media organisations and raised questions around regulations, ethics and professionalism.

The Media Ministry seeks to stress that the use of drones for journalism in Sri Lanka must be, at all times, in compliance with the regulations issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) in February 2016, CA-IS-2016-GEN-001 titled ‘Requirements for Operation of Pilotless Aircraft (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/Remotely Piloted Aircraft)’, available freely on its website. Those who fly drones for purposes of journalism need to read these regulations in full and abide by them.

In addition to existing CAASL regulations, the Media Ministry stresses the need to keep in mind existing ethical and professional guidelines. Overarching ethical guidelines flagged by the Editors Guild and in the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility, amongst other industry guidelines, remain deeply relevant and applicable for drone journalism. In addition, the Ministry will work with relevant government authorities as well as key journalists and drone journalismexperts to formulate guidelines in line with international standards and norms applicable to Sri Lanka.

The Media Ministry request all those who fly drones to do so with the awareness that while they may be seen as toys, in their actual use and operation, they can lead to hurt, harm and litigation if inappropriately deployed. Respecting ethics, privacy and being mindful of the safety of those under and around the theatre of flight operations must be paramount.

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