Drones and media law and ethics in Australia – our #ANZCA2015 paper


Postgraduate student Sam Worboys produced some excellent work for his research project looking at the state of news media use of drones in Australia and the regulatory, legal and ethical implications. I have worked with Sam to develop this into a conference presentation at the Australia and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference in Queenstown, New Zealand, on July 8.

Image credit: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 – Wikimedia image

Image credit: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 – Wikimedia image


‘Emerging dilemmas in the law and ethics of media use of ‘drones’ (unmanned aerial vehicles)’

Sam Worboys and Mark Pearson

Use of ‘drones’ [also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UASs) or ‘Remotely Piloted Aircraft’ (RPA) ] by the news media has prompted a host of ethical, legal and regulatory dilemmas internationally. While they have clear utility as newsgathering devices, their operation triggers ethical dilemmas of public safety and privacy, legal issues of trespass, nuisance, privacy and confidentiality, and regulatory challenges for aviation authorities tasked with defining and policing their safe use in civil airspace. This paper surveys international developments in the journalistic use of drones and categorises the key ethical, legal and regulatory considerations before applying them to the Australian legal and regulatory context and mapping the prospects for news media use of drones in Australia. It reports on the emergence of a ‘two-tier’ regulatory system where hobbyists and citizen journalists can effectively fly their drones ‘under the regulatory radar’ and gather footage during unfolding news events where regulations preclude media outlets and other commercial operators from drone operation. The paper discusses the resulting legal and ethical questions over whether journalists should take advantage of this loophole by appropriating – and taking commercial advantage of – the footage captured by citizen journalists under the pretext of unrestricted non-commercial use.

An expanded and revised version of the paper will be published in an upcoming edition of Australian Journalism Review.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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