Last week California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law an anti-paparazzi bill aimed at protecting children of celebrities from harassment. Actresses Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner were among those who supported the bill, which will go into effect January 1 of next year.
SB 606 Increases Penalties for Harassment by Paparazzi
Senate bill 606 increases the scope of what is considered harassment–as well as the associated penalties. It was sponsored by state senator Kevin de León and signed into law by Gov. Brown without comment, despite opposition from a number of journalists’ groups.
Now a photographer convicted of capturing or attempting to capture the image or voice of a child or ward of a “noteworthy” person without parental consent faces harsher penalties. Instead of a $1,000 fine, they face $10,000 for the first violation, $20,000 for the second, and $30,000 for the third. Instead of a maximum 6-month prison sentence, they could now face up to a year. In addition, they can be sued in a civil suit, which could mean additional financial penalties.
The photographer’s behavior must be considered harassment, meaning that their behavior must cause or be able to cause severe emotional distress in the child.
Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner Testified in Support
Testifying before the California State Assembly were celebrities Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner, both of whom are constantly followed by the paparazzi and have children who are regularly photographed. Berry stated that they just wanted to protect their children, saying, “These are little innocent children who didn’t ask to be celebrities.”
Garner also said that paparazzi laws are unsafe, as they allow stalkers to blend in with photographers. Garner’s alleged stalker Steve Burky was arrested near her daughter’s nursery school in 2009 while blending in with the paparazzi.
Halle Berry, the biggest champion of the bill, also thanked actress Nia Vardalos and singer Adele for their support.
SB 606 Opposition Concerned Over First Amendment Rights
Opposing the bill are the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the California Broadcasters Association, and the National Press Photographers Association. They argue that there are already laws against child harassment and that singling out photographers is unfair. They are also concerned over the fact that photographers face civil suits with a low burden of proof.
A blog post on the California Broadcasters Association site argues that the bill makes no distinction between places where celebrities have a reasonable expectation of privacy and places they don’t (i.e., public places). They are concerned that celebrities will now “use children as shields to control the news process.”
Paparazzi Laws Difficult to Enforce
Paparazzi laws, which are notoriously hard to enforce, have always had to balance the right to privacy with the right of freedom of the press. De León, the bill’s sponsor, said that the bill targets a photographer’s behavior, not the right of the photographer to take a photo and exercise first amendment rights.