November 25, 2011

Paparazzi reluctant to have the media focus turned on them

One of the UK's biggest paparazzi agencies has itself become the target of a media frenzy after a week in which a succession of witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry turned the spotlight on to those behind the camera.

Big Pictures, notorious for its employees' dogged pursuit of celebrities, was in a state of lockdown yesterday after being named this week in celebrities' complaints to the inquiry about alleged invasions of their privacy. It may yet see paparazzi asked to contribute to the inquiry on press ethics and practice.

Staff at the agency, which is managed by the self-styled "Mr Paparazzi" Darryn Lyons, pictured, were under instruction not to answer any queries from the press – an unusual position given their normal relationship with the print media. Photographer and agency chairman Mr Lyons is "filming in Australia", a spokeswoman said, and will not be returning to the UK or be available to comment until April.

Harry Potter author J K Rowling told the judicial inquiry how she had taken legal proceedings against Big Pictures after photographs of her walking with her 18-month-old son appeared in three newspapers.

A photograph showing her son's face was published in the Sunday Express, despite assurances from the agency that the picture would not be reproduced after an initial publication in a Scottish newspaper. Big Pictures defended its claim and paid damages only after a Court of Appeal decision ruled in Rowling's favour three years later.

Other celebrities this week gave evidence against paparazzi, complaining of incidents of intrusion which sometimes bordered on physical intimidation. Hugh Grant told how he had to seek an injunction against photographers staking out the house of Tinglan Hong, the mother of his child, and Sienna Miller described being hounded by as many as 15 photographers.

Industry insiders say that demand from the public for celebrity scandal has flooded the streets of London with photographers, crowding the market. Snappers under pressure from their editors, their agencies and also financial imperatives have used more intrusive methods.

Sienna Miller told the inquiry on Thursday: "As a 21-year-old, I was followed down a dark street by 10 to 15 men with cameras. Because they had cameras, it was all apparently legal, but take away the cameras and all you have is a group of men following a woman."

The irony of celebrity witnesses having to pass by photographers outside the Royal Courts of Justice on their way in and out of the inquiry has not been lost on some observers. The inquiry reached an agreement with photographers before witnesses arrived to remain in a "pen" and a spokesman said that they, the press pack, had been very well behaved.

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