"Good" Drones In The Service Of Serious Journalism

Drones don't just make news, they are beginning to cover it. Brazil street protests are an early testing ground. But for now, the entertainment press is out ahead of the pack.

A drone captures Brazilian demonstrators massing below
A drone captures Brazilian demonstrators massing below
Pablo Abarracín

SANTIAGO — Last June we were able to observe from the air how 250,000 Brazilian protesters unnerved authorities. The display was there for all the world to see of the mass disapproval of Brazil's multi-million-dollar budget devoted to World Cup preparations when public transport was in a state of disgraceful neglect.

It was like an episode of the X games. The pictures, beautifully taken from the air, were broadcast by TV Folha, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper's television service, using a drone. Let's call it a "good" drone.

TV Folha's innovation was just the beginning as we are becoming increasingly familiar with drones. Yet something strange has undoubtedly happened here. About a year ago, the word drone would remind us only of attacks on civilians in Afghanistan or Pakistan, unjustified deaths, "excessive" collateral damage, death and devastation and let's face it, the common denominator, the United States. Yet these monstrous, metallic bumblebees have started to abandon their military vocation for civilian life. They are surprising us with their unknown and peaceful uses as instruments of communication.

"Marvellous little tool I want one for my broadcaster," editors are saying as they realize you no longer have to spend millions to film from the air or take overhead pictures, or give coverage to situations where presence is risky or which are simply inaccessible to human film crews.

TV Fohla's drone — Photo: joaowainer via Instagram

Factory accidents, fires, flooding, sporting and arts events, political meetings, monitoring water resources or bird migration: the good drone won't ask for extra pay for hazardous work or overtime hours.

Still, regional papers and media have been slow to adopt drone use in press work. Beside the cases cited like Sao Paulo or a recent fire in Santiago, filmed by a Chilean TVN drone, systematic use of drones for reporting is still a long ways off.

Red carpet drones

And yet, in a curious twist, it is the entertainment media that are taking the lead here, at least in Chile. The most notable example was Chilevisión's use of a drone during the gala party for the last Viña del Mar Song Festival. The contraption filmed guests walking the red carpet outside the Viña del Mar Casino. And viewers were likely surprised to be able to see such close shots of personalities taken from above. The good drone was well-placed to show necklines and décolletés.

With the current absence of norms governing air space security, and possible future telecom interference or privacy violation, news channels and and websites should hurry to adopt the good drones – in good ways.

Folha de S. Paulo's drone captures the mass demonstrations

The new era of digital media opens the way for the use of technology that was until recently of concern only to scientists or engineers. But trends arrive before we know it and whoever takes advantage - in this case of a new means of communication - will attract audiences among a public increasingly familiar with video use and creation, YouTube and multi-media production.

Innovation is not merely about having the smartphone application, YouTube channel or Vimeo account. It is about presenting original and innovative content in an attractive and different form. The really innovative media are already making space for multi-media content, data journalism and drone use.

Media content production is increasingly more complex and inter-disciplinary, which is why some American universities are incorporating drone use into journalism courses, like Nebraska's Drone Journalism Lab or the Missouri Drone Journalism Program.

So while plans are already in the works for drones to be used for distribution by Amazon or a pizza chain, the question is: What are editors and broadcasting chiefs waiting for before they include drone use in their reporting strategies? The risk is that entertainment shows will monopolize the use of these good drones and pull attention ever farther away from journalism that matters.

New audiences demand new products, and as for entertainment coverage, we already have all we need.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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