The Global Social Network
Since tens of thousands of supporters of Imran Khan and Allama Tahir ul Qadri marched into Islamabad a few days ago, there have been continuous live aerial images and spectacular videos of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf's and Pakistan Awami Tehrik's massive but peaceful sit-in protests broadcast directly from Islamabad by several Pakistani TV channels. This breathtaking live drone camera coverage of a major media event has made drone journalism history in the South Asian country of over 180 million people.
There are few examples of such mainstream media coverage using drones. One example is when Australia's Nine Networks 60 Minutes program used an unmanned aerial vehicle to broadcast images of a vast immigration detention camp set up by the Australian government away from the eyes of the media. Paparazzi, too, use drones but such activity is often illegal and frowned upon by the mainstream media.
The Punjab government banned the use of media drones in Lahore where the PTI and PAT rallies originated before converging on Islamabad. “We have banned the use of helicams/drone cameras after the Ministry of Defence has informed us in writing that the use of such flying devices by anyone except the authorised state agencies is already banned under certain rules and regulations related to civil aviation, etc,” District Coordination Officer retired Capt Muhammad Usman told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.
In Islamabad, however, there have been half a dozen drones in the air covering the combined PTI-PAT dharna (sit-in) round the clock for the last several days. “We were stopped from using these machines yesterday to cover the placement of the containers because the authorities have become sensitive about it,” says Nadeem Ihsan, senior manager (technical) of Samaa TV, which says it used the drone camera the first time in Islamabad during the coverage of the PTI’s earlier public gathering at D-Chowk on May 11.
Pakistani authorities remain cautious about the growing use of these new drones. “We are concerned that the number of these drones may increase to an unlimited level and that would be alarming. We need to make rules to control this technology,” a senior administration official said.
Silicon Valley's Venturebeat publication cites the following additional recent examples of drone usage for reporting:
1. In December 2011, a Fair Elections rally in Moscow used a remote-control model helicopter to get government-independent aerial photos of the crowd.
2. In summer of 2013, a drone videotaped a police clash at a demonstration in Istanbul. The drone was reportedly later shot down, apparently by police.
3. In March 2014, a business systems expert shot half an hour of aerial video in East Harlem after a gas explosion demolished two buildings.
4. CNN has an ongoing request for crowdsourced drone aerial footage.
5. Using drone imagery, Wake Forest University created a 3D model of Duke Energy’s coal ash spill in North Carolina, independent of the utility-favoring state regulators.
6. Drone maker DJI has demonstrated spectacular video of its Phantom drone flying into a volcano in the Tanna island of Vanuatu.
7. In 2012, a camera drone flying near Dallas discovered blood-red spots in the Trinity River. It turned out that pig blood was being emptied via an underground pipe from the Columbia Meat packing plant, located on a creek that feeds into the river. The company was indicted on 18 criminal counts, and a trial is pending.
The civilian drones are coming. Some drone makers would like to see them swarming the skies soon. But others are horrified at the prospect of so many drones flying overhead. Before the drone usage becomes widespread, there will have to be reasonable regulations in place to address safety and privacy concerns of the public at large.