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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

2 State Senators Back Limits on Paparazzi

September 03, 1997|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Two Los Angeles-area lawmakers, reacting to the role paparazzi allegedly played in the car crash that killed Princess Diana, on Tuesday called for legislation aimed at curbing the rights of photographers to intrude on the lives of celebrities.

State Sens. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier) vowed to introduce their bills this year. But given that lawmakers are in the final two weeks of their session, both said they doubt the bills will come up for votes until next year.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) proposed that the Senate look into regulating "paparazzi-style" journalists. She said the Legislature should consider restrictions "before we get to the point where we see this kind of fatality provoked by the misdeeds of those who are out of control."

"We're entering a time when the Roman circus is replacing citizen participation," Hayden said. Referring to what he believes is the increasing influence of tabloids on mainstream news groups, he added that "anything that attacks the paparazzi is good for democracy."

"I've never heard of a great news story being broken by a high-speed chase," he said. "The Vietnam War wasn't exposed by paparazzi. Watergate was not uncovered by paparazzi."

However, First Amendment advocates in and outside the Legislature denounced the efforts, saying any attempt to restrict tabloids would ultimately infringe on more mainstream news gathering efforts.

Diana, companion Dodi Fayed and a limousine driver died after the car in which they were riding crashed in Paris on Sunday as it was being pursued by photographers.

Assemblyman Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) and others who oppose the efforts by Hayden and Calderon said it does not appear that Diana's death was caused by the swarming photographers. Rather, they pointed to the car's high speed and French officials' report that the driver was legally drunk as the likely causes.

"I don't think we should capitalize on a tragic situation this way," said Murray, an entertainment lawyer. "You always will have a First Amendment problem or a restraint of trade problem [with such bills]. . . . We have privacy laws. We have anti-stalking laws. We need to look at [enforcing] them first."

Lawyer Terry Francke of the California First Amendment Coalition, which is supported by news organizations, said restrictions on overly aggressive photographers already exist, established in a lawsuit filed by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis against a photographer who hounded her and her family.

Measures by Hayden and Calderon probably would attract support from Hollywood celebrities. Although they have not put their ideas into actual bills yet, Hayden and Calderon are proposing that celebrity photographers be restricted from coming within a set distance of their quarries. Hayden suggested 50 or 100 feet.

Calderon was not as specific, except to liken the distance to a "bubble" of perhaps 15 feet. He cited laws that restrict antiabortion protesters from obstructing women walking into abortion clinics.

"Without privacy there is no dignity," said Calderon, who last year proposed anti-tabloid legislation that would have made it a crime to knowingly print or broadcast lies for profit.

Calderon, who said he hopes to hold hearings this fall, lined up celebrities Steven Seagal and Paul Reiser to testify for his bill last year. Several others, including Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, this week denounced paparazzi.

Actor George Clooney--who led a boycott last year of Paramount Television's "Entertainment Tonight" program because of paparazzi footage of him that appeared on its sister program, "Hard Copy"--laid principal blame for Diana's death on "the magazines and papers who purchase these pictures and make bounty hunters out of photographers."

During a news conference he called Tuesday at the Screen Actors Guild headquarters in the Wilshire District, Clooney--a star of television's "ER"--said censorship is not the answer.

Instead, he said, he will lead a campaign to eliminate the requirement that a plaintiff prove "malicious intent" in a libel suit.

"These are the two words that every ethical journalist says is the loophole tabloids hide behind," Clooney said. "They are two words in the law that I will spend every free moment trying to change."

Times staff writer Eric Malnic contributed to this report.

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