A drone equipped with a camera on a shooting mission. PHOTO/CREATIVE COMMONS
As journalists prepare their equipment in readiness for August 8 Election Day coverage, let me take this opportunity to talk about drone journalism.
Although drone journalism is a new area of news coverage in Kenya, I have witnessed the role drones have played in the just ended campaigns and also how journalists are going to use them to cover Election Day and thereafter.
While both Jubilee and Nasa have been using drones in their coverage, some journalists have had difficulties using drones largely due to the prevailing legal framework and lack of training in drone journalism.
So far I am not aware of any journalism school in Kenya that is currently offering drone journalism training although some journalists mainly photo-journalists are already practicing drone journalism.
However, journalists need to take advantage of innovations that have been brought about by drone journalism and use them to improve on how they do their work.
Globally, drones or the unmanned aircraft equipped with cameras have become popular in newsrooms and journalism schools are tailoring training programmes along this new media innovation.
However, although drone journalism is just starting to be embraced in Kenya, as regulations stand right now, news organizations and journalism schools experimenting with drones are in a limbo. This is because Kenya has delayed in issuing a gazette notice guiding the use of Aerial Unmanned Vehicles (AUVs) or drones.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) is waiting for the AG to approve regulations presented to the State Law Office earlier in the year. This is after the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) approved the draft regulations on drones in January.
Non-military use of drones had been restricted in the country due to lack of a legal framework. The proposed regulations require commercial drone owners to have security clearance from the Ministry of Defence and have trained pilots, among other things.
Given this development many foreign and local journalists who were planning to use drones in covering elections have ended up facing a lot of difficulties. Some foreign journalists drones have been denied clearance while some local journalists drones have been confiscated because of operating them without clearance.
Currently, there is no training standards and testing mechanisms to ensure that integration of drones in conventional airspaces does not introduce undesirable safety and security risks.
Presently civilians including journalists are limited to flying drones at a height of not more than 400 feet and the regulations that are supposed to come into force prescribes a maximum fine of Sh500,000 or a jail term not exceeding three months for failure to follow the rules.
Due to this difficulties, a team of journalists operating under the auspicies of the Drone Journalism Network are trying to explore ways of effectively using drones on Election Day and thereafter.
The key issues revolve around distribution and deployment of licensed drones and also drone pilots as more ways are explored on how to entrench drone journalism in Kenya. Focus on deployment of drones will be in areas declared as “hotspots.”
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Prof Matt Waite, a professor at the University of Nebraska who in 2011 founded the Drone journalism Lab to study the technology and train journalists on the use of drones says : “The question is ‘what purpose is the drone serving in the story?”
Prof Waite believes that incorporating drones into your newsroom requires meticulous planning.
“It is not a casual thing that you can just go out and do. It requires forethought and planning, and for the pilot-in-command to do a lot of stuff even before leaving the building,” he says.
According to Waite, any local TV station can have a drone unit up and running within two to six months. And most of that time will go into the planning.
KCAA is banking on drones to enhance innovation, create jobs and facilitate service delivery to remote places. At least 1,000 applicants are seeking approval to operate drone-based transport services in Kenya, hinting at high demand for the robotic aircraft.
Companies want to use the UAVs for film shooting, journalism, relief services and other commercial purposes, according to the regulator. However, according to Prof Waite, budgeting is also a major concern for journalists and especially for smaller newsrooms.
A commercial drone kit will run between five and ten thousand dollars. “It is inexpensive compared to a manned helicopter,” Prof Waite says, referring to the eyes-in-the-sky on which many local TV news stations rely.
“Insurance issues are also slowing people down. General liability policies don’t cover aircrafts, so you have to get special insurance for this. And that is in the thousands of dollars a year.”
To address issues like that, Waite’s Drone Journalism Lab recently released an Operations Manual – with support from the Knight Foundation and available to anyone under a Creative Commons license – to help professionalize drone operations across newsrooms.
Waite is also involved in a series of workshops with the Poynter Institute to train journalists and videographers to fly drones and get accredited.
Patrick Mayoyo is the Editor-in-Chief at Next Generation Media Ltd