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News organizations say FAA ban on drones flies against free press

News organizations say FAA ban on drones flies against free press

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Over a dozen top news and media organizations have come out in opposition to the Federal Aviation Administration's commercial drone ban, contesting that its broad restrictions violate First Amendment protections afforded to journalists. Though the ban was overturned by a National Transportation Safety Board judge in March, the FAA is currently appealing it. These news organizations — including the Associated Press, The New York Times Company, and the National Press Photographers Association — have filed a brief with the NTSB asking that it affirm the judge's ruling and continue to block similar bans until the FAA makes an exception for the use of small drones.

"An impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights.""This [current] overly broad policy ... has an impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights of journalists," the brief reads. The policies were put into effect — and also overturned — because they were not instated using the proper rule-making process, and the news organizations' brief reiterates that this means that they and other citizens did not have the opportunity to provide input. "The federal government, through the FAA and with the NTSB's encouragement, should move forward with the development of polices that protect, rather than hinder, freedom of speech and of the press," they write.

According to the brief, the FAA has been extending its ban of drones for "business purposes" to journalists, even though courts have previously found that news organizations can be afforded additional protections when operating for profit. The organizations argue that prohibiting the use of drones curbs their ability to report the news. "Reports on traffic, hurricanes, wildfires, and crop yields could all be told more safely and cost-effectively with the use of [unmanned aerial vehicles]," the brief reads. "Lower-cost aerial photography would help more newsrooms across the country bring more accurate and useful information to the public." The brief also notes that the FAA makes exceptions for journalists in other circumstances, including allowing journalists into some areas that have temporary flight restrictions.

The brief opposes bans on small drones as a whole though — not solely bans for journalistic purposes. The brief doesn't explain its broader support for small drone use, but presumably it believes that they can be appropriately regulated. Should the NTSB affirm that the FAA's ban was improperly implemented, the administration may then be forced to use the traditional notice-and-comment rule-making procedure, as the brief requests.