| Teresa Fischer |
Berlin (dpa) – Be it civil war, a natural disaster or an accident at a nuclear power plant: Reporters sometimes have to risk their lives to get up close to a hot news story.
Drones, which only cost money, not a life, if they crash, could replace people in such risky environments and lead to better journalism.
But there are opponents to the new technology.
“There are a lot of opportunities,” said digital journalist Marcus Boesch. Media drones could fly around crisis areas such as Syria to capture footage.
For local news outlets, they could document changes in city landfills or construction sites over time.
For investigative reporting, a drone with the right sensors can do more than just take pictures.
“I could, for example, fly a drone over the chimney of a factory and the sensor could show me whether there’s only water vapour in it or another substances,” Boesch said.
At the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, a drone was used to measure radioactivity.
Unmanned vehicles can also be used on land or water, says journalist Lorenz Matzat who has been using the new technology for several years. “For me ‘drones’ are not just flying drones.”
Entry-level models are available starting at a few hundred euros, making them expendable if they are downed.
For drones with high-resolution images, media outlets need to spend more than 1,000 euros (US$1,300) and get a professional to fly them.
Technically though, the possibilities are not infinite.
“The battery is the biggest shortcoming,” said Boesch. “After a maximum of 15 minutes it’s empty. The bigger ones last a little longer.”
As well as legal restrictions against drone flights in some nations, there are other hurdles.
Military use of drones to kill terrorists in conflict areas has given the devices a bad name and activists have protested against police use of drones during demonstrations and protests.
There are also privacy concerns, with fears the devices will be mainly used to step up surveillance of both celebrities and ordinary folk.
“Drones are still relatively noisy, so secret filming is not easily achieved,” says Boesch in response.
He predicts we’ll soon feel more at home with drones, since we’ll be used to them in a variety of roles.
They’ve already been used by delivery services, the police and by television companies wanting to capture a spectacular bird’s eye view of a landscape or sporting event.
“Journalists and their organisations should take the issue of drone journalism onto their agenda and decide what they want to do with them,” IT lawyer Ramak Molavi wrote in a contribution to a media conference in Berlin earlier this year.
“As a society, we now have a real choice about which direction to take in developing this new technology.”