Daring to Drone in Myanmar

Last week, a group of journalists were sentenced to two months in prison for flying drones in Myanmar, posing questions over the legality and feasibility of unmanned aerial photography in the country.

Like many legal matters in Myanmar, the situation is murky. Lawyers interviewed by local media weren’t initially sure what laws the group would be charged under, until the courts finally decided on violations of aircraft restrictions from 1934. Myanmar still doesn’t have specific laws on the books regarding drones, but informal regulations have loosened in recent years.

How can aspiring photographers use drones in this legal climate? We asked two experienced pilots their views.

Do your homework

It is possible to go through official channels. Julian Ray, a professional photographer based out of Yangon, has been using drones in Myanmar for years. He said the process has gotten much easier.

“I’m pretty upfront about it,” he said, “I try to get in touch with some authority and be courteous and respectful, and I’m rarely turned down.”

“There isn’t a concrete set of rules about drones, so security and the police will often just say that they’re illegal. But if you can show them that you’ve done your homework and have had some contact with a deputy minister somewhere, there usually isn’t much of a problem.”

While he didn’t know specifics of the case of the four jailed in Naypyitaw, the capital city, he said it was common for overzealous foreigners to run into trouble with the law.

“A few foreign journalists come in and are belligerent about it, with an attitude that they have a right to do this. The just show up and start flying, even if it’s around government buildings, airports, or bus stations. It makes it harder for the rest of us.”

Be stealthy

Nyein Chan Wynn, a software developer and amateur drone photographer in Yangon, said that the lack of laws sometimes works in drone users’ favor.

He told The New Lens International, “It’s like this: A guy is in a building. He asks the security guard if he can smoke, and the security says no. The guy points to the cigarette stubs strewn around the place and asks, ‘Who smoked those?’ The security guard replies, ‘The ones who didn’t ask for permission.’”

“If you ask for permission, they might stop you. If you just fly from a safe distance, no one will ask questions.”

Nyein Chan Wynn has been particularly daring with his photography, shooting several religious sites as well as busy parts of Yangon. He has had close calls with the police, however. He said: “Once, I was flying at one of the Lanmadaw piers (in Yangon). It was around 8 or 9 p.m., and some patrol officers came over cause they saw my drone. When they got to me I’d already packed my drone, so they were just standing there looking awkward.”

Among the toughest places to film are religious sites, but Nyein Chan Wynn has also skirted those rules. “Only (Yangon’s iconic) Shwedagon Pagoda is off limits, for the rest they don’t really care.”

He said it was also important to avoid anything having to do with the government or military, which is where the four arrested ultimately got in trouble.

The four sentenced last week, two from Myanmar, one from Singapore and one from Malaysia, were using their drone outside the parliament building in Naypyitaw. The capital is a city borne out of paranoia about a foreign invasion and domestic unrest, with highways designed for military parades and massive mechanized processions.

The parliament building is a huge complex in the center of the newly-constructed town, comprising 33 buildings with very little cover surrounding them. A rogue drone could presumably be seen and heard for several kilometers in any direction. They were also filming without permission, according to the Straits Times.

However, with the right amount of decorum, caution and maybe a little bit of permission, it is still possible to send up a drone in Myanmar.

Ray said: “Mostly, people are just curious now. They want to see the thing work.”

Source : The News Lens

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