Coverage with DJI Phantoms and Media Drones for the first time in Pakistan
According to Riaz Haq, Geo News, Pakistan’s most popular news channel, is in the process of experimenting with 2 DJI Phantoms, plans for which call for assisting in gathering footage for the network. They are described as “commercially available Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” or, in other words, unarmed drones.
While his counterparts in America are compromised by FAA regulation, Geo Online editor and de-facto drone pilot Shaheryar Popalzai had first-hand experience with the technology in March.
“It’s only a matter of time before news (organizations) understand the benefits of using UAVS, and how they can help with the news,” he says.
For GEO News, which suffered an attack on its prominent anchor, Hamid Mir, last weekend, drones offer safety and the ability to cover topics in greater detail. When the network dispatched a team to the Tharparkar district of Sindh to cover a drought, producers sent Shaheryar Popalzai as a drone pilot. When the segment aired in early April, it was the first of its kind.
“UAVs could be really good for us,” concludes Popalzai
National disasters such as the drought in Sindh are often reported with a lack of visuals, according to Popalzai. When it comes to conveying the living conditions of those affected, he says Pakistani news segments rely too heavily on statistics, sound bytes from officials, and stock visuals to tell a story.
“Our main aim when we took the UAV out there was to show how far and isolated these people are,” says Popalzai. Actual footage of the affected areas has been in short supply. Networks have been airing the Pakistani government’s officially sanctioned footage, which focuses on aid packages being dropped out of a helicopter, but that leaves out those affected by the famine, and most of the landscape in which they live.
The team in Sindh found that that aid had not reached everyone, and some residents did not even know that aid had been distributed at all. For the viewers unfamiliar with it, the aerial footage helped show the arid salt lands in real-time cartography of the area. Shaheryar maintains that without the UAV, the report may have left out a large chunk of the population
“These communities have been ignored for so long, the only evidence of the government I noticed was political posters,” Popalzai said. “But they [locals of interior Sindh] don’t even have electricity, let alone TV. Some villages have mobile towers near them, but they don’t have cell phones.”
While a significant portion of Pakistan’s population lives in such a manner (the world bank estimated 63 percent in 2012), they remain disconnected from the remainder who live in the country’s urban centers—which are among the largest in the world. For the handful of journalists and filmmakers who use drones in Pakistan, using them to cover urban issues still poses a risk.
“Whoever is flying it has to be within range and this can mean they have to be in the open. Once you’re done shooting you need to land the UAV as well, making yourself vulnerable when you’re done landing and picking it up,” Shaheryar says.
In 2012, the Pakistani news channel Capital TV sent 20-something Shehzad Hameed to cover Imran Khan’s election rally at Liaqat Bagh, a garden in the city of Rawalpindi. He was given a satellite backpack that created a 3G wifi network to download footage in real time, from an aerial drone.
“Compared to our usual satellite van, there were less hassles involved with setting up a live feed in a congested place. All the technology was in my backpack,” Hameed says. There was, however, a technical oversight.
“Pakistan is not the coldest country in the world. After one hour of getting great footage, the backpack over-heated,” he says. “We had to leave it under a tree to cool down.” In the end, they had to rely on their older, trusted satellite van to provide live footage. The experiment was not the success his channel was looking for.
he 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.
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