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Italy targets paparazzi blackmail ring

March 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

ROME — Life's become tougher for the paparazzi since their original incarnation chased celebrities on screen in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."

Now, the land of their birth is threatening prison terms for those who run photos or reports on the peccadilloes of the rich and famous.

The action by Italy's privacy watchdog followed the breakup of what authorities call a paparazzi blackmailing ring that targeted actors, soccer players and politicians. And although many welcomed the curbs, others voiced concerns on what it means for media freedoms.

After gathering photo evidence, plus transcripts of purported telephone intercepts, and interrogating starlets, athletes and other celebrities, the Privacy Authority on Friday forbade publication of "private facts and behavior that is not of public interest, not relevant to the story ... and violate the protection of the sexual sphere."

Violations carry potential sanctions of three months to two years in prison, plus possible fines.

The photographer at the center of the inquiry was arrested last week on allegations of extortion and money laundering.

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