October 1, 2018

US - RSF concerned about Congress’ counter-drone proposals and their impact on media coverage

At the Parc de Saint-Cloud, southwest of Paris (AFP Photo / Dominique Faget)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about the counter-drone proposals in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act put forth by the United States Congress, which could prohibit journalists from using drones for news-gathering purposes and impede public access to important information. The proposed US legislation represents just one of many impediments around the world to journalists who use drones in their newsgathering.

If enacted, these proposals would allow the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to track and potentially destroy drones that operate near “covered facilities and assets,” which include courthouses, public protests, prisons, and disaster areas. Other press freedom organizations have expressed similar concerns, including the National Press Club and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), which recently published a list of amendments to the proposed legislation.

“The counter-drone proposals could severely inhibit journalists’ ability to safely gather information and could have a serious impact on journalists’ ability to obtain critical information, particularly in times of crisis,” said Margaux Ewen, Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “Many journalists use drones to gather information that would be otherwise difficult to access to share with the public in the United States and abroad. Before approving these amendments, Congress must address the concerns of our organization and other press freedom groups, including the NPPA and the National Press Club.”

These concerns come at time when journalists around the world have been increasingly detained or jailed for using drones in relation to their work. This includes the arrest and detention of an Australian filmmaker in Cambodia, that of three Al Jazeera journalists in France in 2015, of Malaysian and Singaporean journalists in Myanmar last October, and of a Vietnamese blogger last November.

The US ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.