Aug. 31 marks the 17th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. The Princess of Wales was killed when her car, traveling at excessive speed, smashed into a wall in a Paris roadway tunnel.
A 2008 British investigation into her death put the majority of the blame for her “unlawful killing,” the official verdict handed down by the jury, on the paparazzi, who had been mercilessly pursuing the princess on motorbikes. Partial blame was assigned to her driver, Henri Paul, whose blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Diana’s boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, also died in the crash.
Lessons learned from tragedy?
If you thought the press would have learned a lesson or two in the years following Diana’s death, you’re unfortunately wrong. While no celebrities have died due to a reckless pursuit by the paparazzi, there have been some close calls.
In 2009, LeAnn Rimes stepped on the gas and plowed into another vehicle when she was trying to escape paparazzi. In 2011, Tori Spelling crashed into a wall at her children’s school while trying to duck the cameras. And in 2012, Lindsay Lohan collided with a truck as she sought to shake photographers following her.
Calling off the dogs
Preventing another tragedy like Diana’s may have contributed to the passing of California’s Assembly Bill 2479, which makes reckless driving a misdemeanor punishable by jail time or a fine up to $2,500 if the perpetrator is doing so “with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for commercial purpose.”
The law, passed in 2010, was invoked in a 2012 case involving Justin Bieber and photographer Paul Raef. While Bieber was issued a speeding ticket for doing over 80 mph in a 65-mph zone as he was trying to dodge Raef, the Los Angeles County Attorney charged Raef with a violation of Assembly Bill 2479, also known as the “anti-paparazzi law.”
The kids are all right?
Inherent with celebrity is a loss of privacy, and Hollywood insiders understand that. But the issue that has celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry up in arms is the paparazzi’s pursuit of their children, who did not ask for fame or notoriety.
Testimony from the two actresses helped pass California Senate Bill 606, which increases jail time from six months to one year and increases fines from $1,000 to $10,000 for any photographers harassing children because of their parents’ jobs.
Is it legal? The big picture
It’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t support protecting children and preventing dangerous high-speed chases. But some legal advocates worry that the anti-paparazzi laws may infringe upon the constitutional freedom of the press. They claim that singling out photographers over other reckless drivers is unconstitutional.
What’s more, the fines are not much of a deterrent since many photographers make significantly more money than the fines with the sale of just one photo. Finally, the laws are hard to enforce, as the taking of photos is not illegal; it’s the photographer’s actions that are.
It’s a fuzzy picture, at best.