WASHINGTON — During a congressional hearing on a proposal to impose criminal penalties on paparazzi, Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) wanted to know if Michael J. Fox or Paul Reiser had ever made a personal appeal for privacy to the gangs of photographers that have become an unwelcome hazard of celebrity life.
“They would laugh,” said Fox, adding, “Then they would start goading you, baiting you and spitting at you while taking your picture.” Fox explained to Coble that some of the most zealous photographers spit at celebrities in an effort to provoke a reaction that will make a picture easier to sell.
Both Fox and Reiser testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that would make a photographer liable under criminal and civil laws for causing the death or injury of the person being photographed. The law would even make a photographer liable if a celebrity or other target of paparazzi zeal becomes fearful of injury or death.
But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), was met with mixed reaction in the House Judiciary Committee, where several members wondered whether the bill was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Some Republicans also suggested the issue may be more appropriately addressed at the state level.
Radio and Television News Directors Assn. president Barbara Cochran warned that “attempting to guard the privacy of celebrities … is no reason to suppress freedom of the press and to violate the right of the public to see and hear news imagery without government intervention.”