Tomorrow (1/1) not only marks the beginning of a brand new year — it also marks the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of celebrities besieged by paparazzi. This is the day a new law intended to curb dangerous excesses by hounding photographers goes into effect, thanks to the tireless efforts of Paparazzi Reform Initiative Founder & CEO Sean Burke, and former California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.
“We feel this newest law will make a difference – it increases penalties on reckless driving when someone is in pursuit of a photograph for commercial sale,” Burke tells us. “In short – paparazzi chasing celebrities by car, when they run lights and otherwise drive recklessly, can be arrested for a misdemeanor (instead of a simple traffic infraction) and can be put in jail for up to a year if the car they were chasing had a minor in it and if that minor was put in any kind of danger as a result of the chase. We are already getting indications that the paparazzi won’t be chasing like they have in the past. And with that, the general public (as well as the celebrity and their children) are safer.”
Burke also notes, “To help ensure this is the case, we are designing a video system with an automotive audio/video installation company that celebrities can install in their car to shoot video out the back to capture footage of any paparazzi chasing them. Likewise, we have been coordinating with the LA County DA’s office and LA City Attorney’s office on exactly what they will need to prosecute offenders of the new law. ”
The bill — supported by celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon – passed months ago. You may recall a first paparazzi reform bill — that imposes fines on photogs who violate famous persons’ right to privacy, and the media outlets that buy them — being signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009. That, too, was a result of former celebrity security man Burke’s work. More information can be found at his organization’s web site, www.paparazzi-reform.org.
Media organizations have complained about these laws potentially interfering with First Amendment rights, but we sincerely disbelieve that Amendment was intended to make camera mob harassment legal. Perhaps if the energy being put into those complaints went into efforts toward self-regulation instead, it would be more productive. Meanwhile, here’s hoping that if California can manage to enforce reasonable safe practices, it will serve as a model for other states and countries.