Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What First Amendment?

An article appeared in today's Los Angeles Times about the problems caused by the presence of paparazzi in Malibu. Here's the link. The problem is not limited to Malibu--wherever young celebrities hang out, so do photographers looking for that money-making shot. Apparently, the photographers travel alone and in packs in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and on Robertson (Avenue, Street, or Boulevard, I'm not sure) where there are lots of trendy boutiques.

Clearly, I don't go to many trendy places, because the only time I'm likely to see a swarm of photographers is when I'm walking a red carpet or when I'm in San Diego for Comicon, where the swarm follows the stars for their appearances. Last year, when David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, I was driving home and saw a swarm of photographers along Pierce College's Victory Boulevard fence. Victoria Beckham was with the kids at a soccer match, so the little flies were buzzing. I'm not entirely sure it was legal for the school to keep the photographers at bay like that--it is a public school and it is, technically, public land. At least that's what the horse owners got told when we wanted to keep people from walking through the barns at Pierce and sticking their fingers in our horses' faces. Maybe Posh Spice smiled nicer than we did.

Like the situation at Pierce, I'm not sure that the mayor of Malibu, who is now trying to craft a law to keep the paparazzi at bay in her "Mayberry-like" community. For good or ill, the paparazzi are a part of the press, whether they are freelancers or in the employ of an agency. It seems to me that there are already laws in place upon which a particularly intrusive photographer can be dissuaded from pursuing his or her career, such as those against trespass, assault, battery, reckless driving, or false imprisonment.

While the main stream media often portrays the paparazzi as parasites, it seems that there is more of a symbiotic relationship between many of the paparazzi and their prey. People like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears would be long past their 15 minutes of fame but for their encouragement of the prying lenses. This isn't always the case. There are plenty of examples of the press or photographers actively goading celebrities into unflattering situations.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I believe everyone is entitled to some privacy. I don't believe that everything a celebrity does is news or my business. Going to a premier is public and most actors are gracious under those circumstances. Going out to dinner with friends or the family or going grocery shopping? That's private. Leave them alone. No one can be on 24-7 (except maybe I do expect a President who is, but I'm sorely disappointed these days) and even people who make their living by being famous are entitled to down-time.

California already has a law on the book by which a photographer can be prosecuted for invasion of privacy by using an extreme telephoto lens to get a picture within the confines of someone's home or yard. That may not be so bad, but finding a way to prevent reportage (and photographs are reportage, just like words are) because you don't like the "speakers" should face pretty high hurdles before enforcement. The problem is that many individual photographers aren't in any position to pay for the kind of legal fight opposing crippling legislation might cost. That's probably not a problem for TMZ and X17.

I've been hearing rumblings about what the mayor of Malibu is trying to do for several weeks. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for a more definite ordinance.

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