Drones in the Media 2016

In what ways are drone technologies useful to the news media? What are the obstacles, and what are the dangers? Can anyone be a civil drone pilot, and what is allowed above 120 meters height?


Main content

These were but some of the issues debated at the Drones in the Media Conference at the University of Bergen on January 26, 2016. The conference was held in the University Aula, and was opened by prorector Annelise Fimreite. More than a hundred journalists, drone producers, researchers, and students attended the event that kickstarted ViSmedia, a multinational project about surveillance technology in the news media. 

Drones: Game Changers in Society

Principal Investigator of the ViSmedia project, professor Astrid Gynnild, provided an overview of drone journalism potentials and traced its beginnings back to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. “Camera drones over night became the new activist weapon,” Gynnild said. By experimenting with an iPhone and a simple drone the young activist Pool and his friends were able to document police violence by live streaming from inside the Occupy Wall Street camp.

The project leader emphasized that in the news media, robot witnessing is becoming just as important as eye witnessing. She claimed that drones are game changers in society; the smallest drone on the market, Black Hornet, weighs 17 grams, is rain and storm resistant and flies at a speed of 45 kilometers an hour. In a few years, we might expect drone taxis and drone ambulances to be a part of our daily lives, she said. She argued that these prospects should urge the news media to focus on innovation news coverage at a larger scale.

But There Are Risks

Drone developer and journalist Eirik Solheim from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) gave the audience insight in how the NRK constantly develops camera drone technologies.

“Drones combine proximity and overview in a way that would have been impossible to achieve with helicopters, or by standing on the ground,” he said.

Solheim also highlighted potential dangers with drones, such as the propellers, the risk of the drone falling down and hurting someone, and also fire in the battery of the drone.

“The worst-case scenario is a collision between a drone and a commercial airplane,” he said.

Photographer and leader of UAS Norway, Anders Martinsen, said drones provide journalists with many possibilities, and demonstrated with a recent drone video of a fire in Kristiansand.

“This would not have been possible just a few years ago”, he said.

More Than Just Technology

Professor of Technology Ethics at Virginia University, Deborah G. Johnson, participated via video and discussed responsible innovation and early intervention. Johnson said that technology isn’t value neutral.

“Technology isn’t just artefacts, technologies are socio technical ensembles, they’re combinations of people, cultural relationships, values, systems of knowledge and so on. So when we’re looking at drones for this project, I think it’s important for us to remember that drones aren’t just hunks of metal and plastic and mechanical parts,” Johnson said.

Special Advisor in the Association of Norwegian Editors, Nils E. Øy, discussed privacy and editorial responsibilities, and pointed to the necessity of rules for drones to ensure security. He also said that the Code of Ethics of the Norwegian Press applies when using drones as well as helicopters.

Drones in Universities

Professor Lars Nyre praised the new media students in Bergen and their quick way of thinking. “They can be compared to speedboats, where many of us are super tankers,” Nyre said. On Brostein you can read news produced by the media students.

Project leader of the Drone pilot and operator education in University of Tromsø, Håvard Mjøen, had the last lecture of the day, and gave an insight in how comprehensive their education is. He said that the university of Tromsø is going to start a new Bachelor’s degree in drone piloting this fall. “The new bachelor program will combine drone piloting and enhancing drone engineering skills,” Mjøen said.