March 7, 2008

If Passed, 'Britney Law' May End Papparazzi Stalking Tactics

Another panty-less pic of Brit or Paris, Lindsay Lohan’s breakdown stories from inside rehab, Brangelina’s love scandal and Heath Ledger’s funeral services. These days, it doesn’t seem possible for celebrities to stay out of the limelight.

Paparazzi have an almost unlimited access to celebrities’ personal lives. The stalkarazzi stop at nothing to get the “money shot” by driving on the wrong side of the street, camping outside of their homes, swarming cars, and trespassing — all to catch celebrities in their weakest moments. We often justify this invasion of privacy because we tell ourselves they put themselves in the limelight and this is the price of fame. Imagine if these situations were applied to a non-celebrity. Imagine having a relentless photographer (and stranger) follow your every move, not to mention that he (or she) has probably been standing outside of your house for hours. Oh wait ... this would be what most of us consider stalking and harassment.

It seems that Ms. Spears, with her pic in the paper everyday, finally reached a level of celeBrity to require special legal protection, which would ultimately do a huge favor to countless other celebrities.

The paparazzi antics while covering the latest Spears saga last month served as a means for the recently proposed “Britney Law” — which later will be renamed. Los Angeles City Councilman, Dennis Zine, proposed the new law to ensure a personal safety zone around individuals targeted by the media. He proposed this law as a result of Spears’ recent hospitalization fiasco in which police literally had to escort the pop singer’s ambulance by a barrier of police cars and helicopters in order to shield her from the stalkarazzi. Why should you care? Aside from a serious invasion of personal space and privacy, this military-like, covert operation ended up costing taxpayers about $25,000.

Zine’s proposed motion notes that the paparazzi “are becoming increasingly aggressive in their tactic, posing a clear danger not only to the people they are trying to photograph, but to the general public around them.”

Two years ago, a Cali “anti-paparazzi” law went into effect that increased penalties against photogs who impede celebrities or are responsible for car accidents. They are liable for three times the damages they inflict, plus lose any payments their published photos might earn. However, it seems that this law isn’t strict enough.

If legislators pass the proposed “Britney Law,” it will be the most stringent anti-paparazzi legislation of its kind to date. If a paparazzo crosses the 20-yard “personal safety bubble” without permission, the city will confiscate all profits from any resulting photograph.

However, this proposal raises several questionable issues, particularly the First Amendment right of the press to facilitate communication of information to the public, which some feel could lead to a slippery slope of abuses involving legitimate access to newsmakers. Others simply believe it will not affect the industry.

As L.A. police chief William Bratton said, “What we need is Britney Spears to stay home instead of traipsing all over town. That would solve the problem.” Makes sense to me.

But Councilman Zine counters, “We are not prohibiting anyone from taking a picture but the matter in which they are getting those pictures.”

I am a huge First Amendment proponent, but this proposed law seems like a step in the right direction — assuming Ms. Spears and other won’t just stay home. The paparazzi aren’t going to voluntarily show some restraint themselves anytime soon. And it disturbs me to think about the amount of recent incidents involving paparazzi, either directly or indirectly. Just last year, Halle Berry got into a wreck after these snaparazzi stalked her two days after she announced her pregnancy. And every so often we hear the repeating headline that celebs like Brit and Lindsay have run over photogs’ feet after the media hounds swarmed their cars. This conduct keeps escalating and becoming increasingly more dangerous due to the expensive price tag that comes with the candid photos. As a mother of two, I could not imagine the fear that these celebrities feel when they take their kids for a drive to the local toy store or even a stroll down the street. Although many people feel that this is the price that celebrities must pay for fame, it’s people’s safety that we are compromising.

"If we think back a few years, Princess Diana was driving down the road, paparazzi chasing," Zine recalls. "A crash occurred, Princess Diana died. I don't want to see that happen here in Los Angeles."

Bottom Line: As a media analyst myself and concerned with the slippery slope of this law diminishing our First Amendment rights, this proposal seems like a compromise somewhere in the middle. With such powerful camera lenses, technology allows photogs to snap the picture without causing celebrities to snap. People have the right to be secure and a right of privacy. It seems that these stalkarazzi are being allowed to illegally infringe on individuals personal rights, freedoms, and above all, the safety of celebrities and the public. With the millions at stake in this industry, it’s hard to predict whether this will end up helping the situation. It’s also difficult to know whether a court may one day overturn the law. But I think that it is safe to say that it’s worth a try.

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