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The Paparazzi And The Legislation Essay, Research Paper

The paparazzi – a fusion of the Italian words papatacci, meaning gnat and razzi meaning the popping of flashbulbs. It is also known as aggressive photography. The word paparazzo was coined by Federico Fellini, the name he gave to a prying society cameraman in his 1959 film “La Dolce Vita”. Paparazzi photographers are fueled by large sums of money offered by the tabloid press. They try to catch the rich and famous in unflattering situations.

The new breed of journalism grew by leaps and bounds after the Watergate scandal first broke in Washington, DC (Petersen s, 57). At first the paparazzi were an annoying group of photographers who were persistent when trying to get the perfect shot of a celebrity so they could sell the image for large sums of money but as technology became more advanced so did the equipment the paparazzi used – telephoto lenses, hi-tech listening devices, and powerful zoom lenses on video cameras.

No major celebrity can avoid them. Emerging from cars, entering glittering parties or trying to take a secluded vacation, the glamour figures of the 90s are hounded mercilessly by the men-and a few women-who wield long lenses and a brazen shamelessness (Maclean, 38). Today, paparazzi s tread on private property, film celebrities during intimate moments, and even go as far as stalking a public figure.

Some of these photos can be worth in the millions of dollars. A single photograph of Prince Charles seen together with his mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles is estimated to be worth 5 million English pounds. The prince says he “would love to figure out a way for the proceeds to go to charity” (Newsweek, 95).The prince and his mistress usually arrive and depart at different times in order to avoid the paparazzi when they attend a function together.

The prince has been lucky. Almost all well known faces have had run-ins with the paparazzi but many have horror stories to tell. The Screen Actors Guild has been concerned with the paparazzi and how it affects many of it s 100,000 members. “The death of princess Diana was the final straw” according to the SAG president, Richard Masur. He, along with California Senators Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and three respected constitutional scholars had a meeting to discuss what could be done about the paparazzi. In less than four hours, they came up with the rough wording of S. 2103 (Quill, 27).

Before that, Rep. Sonny Bono introduced the first bill, H. Rep. 2448, going so far as to specify prison terms for harassment that results in injury (five years) or death (20 years) (Quill, 27). The bill states that harassment would be considered “persistently physically following or chasing a victim, in circumstances where the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” The way that is defined, victims can sue the police department if they were videotaped “harassing” a suspect like the Rodney King videotaped beating.

After Bono s death, Rep. Elton Gallegly, a California Republican, offered H. R. 3224, a more carefully defined version of Bono s proposal (Quill, 27). Bono s widow succeeded her husband to keep the Bono name on H. R. 2448. There are many bills being made to stop the most aggressive of the paparazzi but many take away from the first Amendment, freedom of speech.

Sen. Feinstein s bill, S.2103, differs from the House bills because it also provides for civil actions against members of the press for use of high-powered lenses, microphones, or helicopters used to trespass for commercial purposes. This provision attempts to supplement existing laws of trespass, creating a new legal cause of action for new forms of trespass made possible by modern technology. Victims can recover compensatory, and punitive damages and may also seek injunctive and declamatory relief (Quill, 21).

All three paparazzi bills-H. R. 2448 and 3224 in the House, and S. 2103 in the Senate-would, in their own way, create new criminal and civil penalties for commercially motivated invasions of privacy that result from persistent chases or other invasive methods used by photographers, videographers and audio recorders (Quill, 27). Actors Brad Pitt and then girlfriend Gwyenth Paltrow were caught vacationing on a private island in the nude and their pictures were sold to the highest bidder. The only way to snap those photographers would have been to trespass on private property.

Michael J. Fox told a story to the Senate about leaving a movie premier with his wife and a police escort when they were mobbed by the paparazzi. The results were photographs of Fox and his wife looking in distress with a police officer assisting them. The tabloids published fictional articles stating that they were being sent death threats and were afraid for their lives. Because of that article, a disturbed woman started sending him real death threats (6,200 in all). She was eventually arrested and served jail time. Fox says “I firmly believe that she would not have acted had the tabloid not provided an irresponsible, fictional precedent. There were stalking laws that protected us from her, but no deterrent or law to protect us from aggressive paparazzi” (Quill, 86). He states that “it s the hunting, not the cooking” that celebrities want protection against.

Other stars, politicians, and victims of infamous crimes have similar stories. The laws that are being considered, four in total as of June 98, have a positive and negative side to them. All laws are being made to protect against “commercially motivated invasions of privacy”. However, some lawyers fear that these laws could do more harm than good. Washington DC media lawyer Lee Levine said that if the paparazzi legislation passed he could “envision almost anyone who did not like a story that included a picture of him suing under this new law”. Because of that concern that Levine and many other lawyers fear the new laws being presented to the legislation state that it is not illegal to publish what ever photograph is taken.

According to the people who would like to see the bill passed, the bill would protect those who are harassed verbally and physically by paparazzi who are trying to get a photograph of a person at their worst for higher sums of money and it would protect the privacy of people, who 50 years ago, couldn t even imagine the possibilities of future technology. “In the two hundred nine years since the First Amendment was authored, this balance has become progressively hardly to achieve. Before the advent of inexpensive, lightweight, telephoto lenses and long-range listening devices, one could feel relatively secure that, when you were in your own home, no one could closely observe you unless they entered your property” (Quill, 29). Because of the technological advances, congress should pass some sort of bill that would take this into account. The bill would protect those who are harassed by being persistently followed for the purpose of making a visual or audio recording. In a case where the harassment would cause a person to fear injury, a cause of action would be created. If the harassment results in serious bodily injury, or death, it would constitute a crime (Quill, 29). The argument here is that we already have laws protecting against anyone who becomes hurt by the violent actions of another person.

People opposed to the new laws that are trying to become passed say that all incidents where a certain member of the paparazzi got out of hand were taken care of through the legal system. Paul McMasters, a First Amendment Ombudsman at The Freedom Forum told the House Judiciary Committee on May 21st that “State and local jurisdictions already have laws dealing with invasion of privacy, intrusion upon seclusion, trespass, harassment, and other problems taken up in the federal legislation (American, 30). To further support this statement McMasters brought up the 1973 trial where a judge ordered free-lance photographer Ron Gatella to stay 25 feet from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and 30 feet from her children after a period of harassing coverage as an example of how the legal system interfered when a paparazzi went to far. Another case he mentioned was the 1996 trial where a judge imposed similar restrictions on an Inside Edition camera crew that had staked out a family in pursuit of a story. Earlier last year two British photographers were convicted in a California court and sentenced to jail terms for their attempts to photograph actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver. Actor George Clooney led a boycott of tabloid TV shows for what he considered intrusive and unfair coverage. He was joined by his colleagues on the cast of ER, ass well as other stars, including Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O Donnell, and Steven Spielberg. As a result of the boycott, the shows changed their rules about what would be accepted and aired. When a vague and ambitious law interferes with the public s right to see, hear and be touched by the news, they are robbed of their ability to make their own judgments about what they consider “news” (American, 31). Trying to create more laws that serve relatively the same purpose would be irrelevant.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association has support of the top 3 TV networks in fighting the Anti-paparazzi bill, SB262, including CNN who hired a lobbying firm to fight the bill (Editor, 33). CNPA said new opponents include the California Manufactures Association, law enforcement agencies, private detectives and unions (Editor, 33). The manufactures are worried that the bill would make it illegal to photograph employees playing football while receiving workers compensation. The police are worried they would be sued for spying on criminals and private eyes are worried because they photograph and film people undercover all the time.

Unfortunately for those opponents, the Anti-Paparazzi bill, SB 262, was passed in California 48-13. This bill would define invasion of privacy as trespassing with the intent to capture audio or video images of a celebrity or crime victim engaging in a personal or family activity. It will allow the celebrity or crime victim to recover damages from the paparazzi and people who employ them (Victorville). According to Andrea Brown, a spokesperson for former governor Pete Wilson, “The governor thought it was important because of safety issues for normal everyday people. These people deserve to conduct their personal lives in private. Technology requires changes in any law. It creates new ways for people to commit crimes.”

After all the research done on the pro s and con s of new laws that would affect the paparazzi it s easy to see how these laws could affect people on both sides of the issue. Paparazzi photographers have to make a living and the famous deserve their privacy. Celebrities know that with fame comes the loss of privacy but they do not deserve to loss all privacy and not all paparazzi photographers are ruthless, shameless, aggressive people. The laws that came into effect on January 1st, 1999 were only to restrain the most aggressive of photographers. We can only hope that the paparazzi will learn when they ve gone too far.


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