Tuesday 25 July 2017

'They jump out of bushes' – stars take on paparazzi in privacy battle

Halle Berry
Halle Berry
Guarded: Justin Bieber confronting a photographer

Joe O'Shea

Alec Baldwin has been known to throw punches, Justin Bieber hides behind a phalanx of aggressive bodyguards and Michael Jackson, famously, donned surgical masks and hid his children under blankets.

But for Hollywood's voracious army of paparazzi, the difficulties posed by burly bodyguards and surly A-listers are now dwarfed by the campaigning of actress Halle Berry and her political allies in California.

What Berry and the lawmakers are aiming to do is put a leash on what they claim are out-of-control packs of snappers and video-cam jockeys. Some A-listers can hardly go to their local organic co-ops without taking 20 or 30 swarming photographers in tow.

And the 'paps' who win big paydays by following the stars 24/7 could soon find themselves facing the kind of restraining orders previously only slapped on celebrity stalkers.

It has become a huge business for the snappers and their media clients. The best in the business, who depend on an army of paid tipsters ranging from hotel doormen and limo drivers to 'turncoats' inside celebrity entourages, can earn at least €250,000 a year.

And that doesn't include the 'big score', such as New York paparazzo Steve Sand's reported €240,000 from People magazine for the first pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin's second child.

The paps will go to great effort and expense to get the big shot, spending thousands of dollars to follow stars such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to exotic hideaways and using camouflage gear and survival techniques to stake out holiday homes, often for weeks on end.

However, it is the recent and huge interest in the children of celebrities which is driving moves to legislate on paparazzi in states including Hawaii, New York and especially California, the heart of celebrity culture.

Halle Berry has just appeared before a legislative committee of the California state assembly to testify in support of a new anti-paparazzi bill preventing snappers from taking pictures of celebrities' children.

The controversial bill has stirred a big debate on celebrity and privacy in the US, with officials in other states keeping a close eye on the proceedings as they consider similar laws.

The pregnant actress has frequently clashed with photographers. In video footage captured while she was travelling through LAX airport with her daughter and fiancé recently, she could be seen screaming "get away from my child" at a large pack of snappers.

Berry has also made a string of complaints to the police about the members of the media camped outside her daughter's school.

Speaking before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety at the Capitol in Sacramento, the Oscar winner revealed that her five-year-old daughter Nahla no longer wanted to go to class because of the presence of the paparazzi.

"My daughter doesn't want to go to school because she knows 'the men' are watching for her," Berry told the lawmakers.

"They jump out of the bushes and from behind cars, besieging these children just to get a photo."

Berry said she was speaking out as a "mother of a daughter and the baby boy in my belly" and added: "If it (the law) passes, the quality of my life and my children's lives will be dramatically changed."

The law, if it passes next month, will put limits on photographers who persistently stake out or otherwise harass children of celebrities as they capture shots for magazines, photo agencies and other media.

There will be legal penalties for paps involved in harassing behaviour, defined as "conduct occurring during the course of any actual or attempted recording" of a child's image or voice, without parental consent, and while following or "lying in wait" to do so.

Berry told the politicians that she realises that as a celebrity, parts of her life are effectively public property.

"I understand that there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up," said the actress.

"There's a trade-off . . . However, when it comes to my child, and their fear of leaving their house and feeling they cannot move in the world in a safe way, that is when, as a mother, I have to step up for my rights as a woman."

The legislation is being opposed by a number of major media companies, including Time Warner, which owns the celeb website TMZ.

However, it has also raised questions about the right of the public – increasingly armed with smart-phones that are effectively video cameras – to take unauthorised footage of celebrities.

Opponents of the bill accuse Hollywood stars like Berry of using their celebrity power to effectively build a legal privacy wall around themselves and their families.

All eyes are now on California, and what could be the start of a push back by the world's most famous people against the excesses of celebrity culture.

Irish Independent

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