The Federal Aviation Administration gave CNN special permission Jan. 12 to test fly drones for, “news gathering and reporting purposes.” CNN says this program is a first of its kind and that they will be one of the few groups that has been given this special permission to test commercial drones.
For the FAA, this program is an opportunity to see what news agencies will do with drones. The FAA’s official commercial drone regulations are still being developed. Currently there is a ban on the commercial use of drones until these regulations are made. Seeing how CNN uses drones will surely influence the rules while they are in their drafting stage.
Already, there has been limited use of drones for journalistic purposes. A 60 Minutes crew captured some amazing footage of Chernobyl using unmanned aerial systems. David Vigilante, CNN‘s senior vice president of legal said that, for the news agency,
Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism.
The legal side of flying drones is best described as messy and in need of clarification. The Wall Street Journal pointed out that it may get especially complicated when drones mix with the press. In the past, several news agencies, among them the Associated Press and the New York Times, have questioned the FAA’s authority to regulate drones for journalistic purposes. They cited none other than the First Amendment, which prohibits any law that infringes upon the press’ right to free speech.
Journalism aside, a handful of similar exceptions to the commercial drone ban have been granted, says the FAA. For example, a real estate firm in Tucson, AZ will be testing their drones, “to enhance academic community awareness and augment real estate listing videos.” There is also a firm in Spokane, WA that intends to use drones for agricultural purposes.