New York Times Complains FAA Regs on Drones Abridge Freedom of Press

So the New York Times has found an onerous, creativity-stifling regulation it abhors. Naturally, they want a carve-out so it still impacts everyone else but, well, journalists and the corporations which hire them.

Jack Nicas of the Wall Street Journal reported today that the New York Times Company is joining other journalistic enterprises like the Associated Press and Tribune Co. in "a joint brief in a high-profile legal case that is testing the FAA's legal authority to regulate drones":


In the brief, the media groups criticized the FAA's "overly broad policy" that restricts use of commercial drones in the U.S., saying it violates the First Amendment right of newsgathering and has already had "an impermissible chilling effect" on some journalists' reporting.

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed in opposition to the FAA's appeal of a recent ruling that overturned the agency's first fine against a drone pilot. In that decision, National Transportation Safety Board Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that drones are "model aircraft" and thus not subject to the FAA's rules on manned aircraft.

The FAA has rejected that interpretation, saying it can pursue penalties against model aircraft that endanger air safety. The agency appealed the ruling to the full NTSB.

What the Times essentially argues in its brief is that, yes, it is a commercial enterprise, but that it deserves a carve-out from the FAA's ban on commercial for-profit operation of drones because the Times is in the business of news gathering, a First Amendment-protected activity. Never mind that news agencies like the Times are perfectly free to hire and charter licensed helicopter or airplane pilots to engage in aerial newsgathering, it's just an obviously much more expensive endeavor overall than operating unmanned drones would be if it were permitted.

Perhaps, on the merits, the Times is in the right. There's certainly debate to be had about the proper regulatory policy on drone usage in American airspace, and perhaps a wider commercial use -- for news gathering and otherwise -- should be deployed.

That said, it is instructive when an organization like the New York Times, which wails and moans in its editorials about corporations spending millions on political messaging and advertising to influence elections --  and with them public policy -- finds itself complaining to a regulatory agency that it somehow should be treated differently from every other corporation in America simply because it belongs to the Fourth Estate.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters