By The usage of drones and its impact on privacy has been a much talked about topic in recent times. The issue was once again discussed after a drone flew over the burial site of slain editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunga when his body was being exhumed for fresh investigations on September 27.Weekend Nation obtained views of several officials pertaining to this issue.

Following are excerpts:

Reporting in the public interest cannot be abused by the media – Dy. Min. Paranavithana
Addressing the matter concerning the use of drones, the Government observed that while the media was granted exemption in reporting in the name of public interest, such a licence should not be allowed to be abused.

A drone of hitherto unknown origin and ownership was used during the exhumation of Wickrematunga’s remains, the filming and photographing of which was closed to the media.

Deputy Minister of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Karunaratne Paranavithana further added that they had started to create a discourse regarding media ethics and improving professionalism of the media.

He outlined that such was not a case with the Government imposing an ethical code on the media but rather an attempt to achieve a consensus with media stakeholders concerning the standards to be adhered to when reporting on matters such as crimes and conflicts. Paranavithana added that the ultimate goal was to make it legal.

“We are going to establish an independent media commission. Drone camera use raises issues of privacy and it cannot be arbitrarily used. The basic ethical aspects involve making a request from a subject, prior to taking a photograph of the subject,” he opined.

Family’s request for privacy overrides public interest – Dr. Kalansooriya
Director General of the Government Information Department, Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya said that the objection of the family to any media coverage would override the issue of public interest.

Speaking on the incident during Wickrematunge’s exhumation process, Dr. Kalansooriya said the act was a violation of ethics. “In the ethical training modules especially in the modules of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), there is a specific case study which says that if the family objects coverage, then the media has to honour the decision regardless of the strata of the person in the society,” he said.

“These are basic media ethics and the case study says you should not do the coverage even using discreet cameras,” he added.

He also said that there was no need of fresh regulations for the usage of drones and added the existing guidelines were enough. “Whether you send a drone or a hidden camera or a reporter in disguise does not matter. If the family says no coverage then you have to respect that.”

“There are basic ethics that need to be followed. You need to get the permission of the person. You can’t send cameras all over the place unless there is an issue of public interest. But even the issue of public interest is overridden by the family decision.”

Drone use may result in harassment – Police
Police suggest that the use of drones in a manner which constituted an invasion of privacy could possibly fall within the purview of laws such as those in the Penal Code criminalizing harassment.

Police Media Spokesman, Deputy Inspector General of Police Priyantha Jayakody said that there were no special laws outlawing the use of drones, adding however that the Civil Aviation Authority had certain limitations imposed regarding the importation of drones and the weight of drones.

He added that no one could go beyond the limits of the policy of privacy.

“This is a newly formed electronic device and instrument. There are questions regarding where drones can be allowed to go airborne, where the use of drones is prohibited and what actions can be taken to safeguard people from drones. There is general courtesy. There are ethics and rules to be followed,” he said.