Concerns arise about California Assembly bill to control paparazzi

The California Newspaper Publisher Association argues that a California Assembly bill aimed at limiting Hollywood paparazzi would hamper journalists and photojournalists in transit to emergency scenes or breaking news locations by criminalizing driving infractions. -db

The California Newspaper Publisher Association
August 27, 2010

Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) recently amended her bill to rein in “out of control” Hollywood paparazzi to allow for severe criminal punishment of photojournalists that violate traffic laws. CNPA has filed a new letter in opposition to AB 2479. The bill was approved Tuesday, August 24, by the Senate Public Safety Committee on a party line vote over the objections of CNPA and the California Broadcasters Association. Today the Senate returned the bill to the Assembly on a 21-13 vote. The Assembly will likely take the bill up before the Legislature adjourns Tuesday, August 31.

The August 20 amendments, drafted and sponsored by Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, would make it a misdemeanor instead of an infraction to violate any of three existing Vehicle Code Sections — tailgating, reckless driving and interfering with the operation of a vehicle — “with the intent to capture any type of visual image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for a commercial purpose.” The bill would create enhanced punishment: more than two-and-a-half times the penalties for reckless driving without the intent to capture an image, and in the case of reckless driving that places a child in harm’s way, six times as much punishment than for regular violators, up to a maximum $5000 fine and one year imprisonment.

AB 2479 would also amend the state’s civil anti-paparazzi law (Civil Code Sec. 1708.8) to include “false imprisonment that is committed in order to obtain a visual image or other impression of the person.”

From CNPA’s August 23 letter:

“While CNPA has no issue with the underlying reckless driving laws and penalties, which are laws of general application, the most recent amendments, while likely intended to solely curb the most virulent paparazzi, would create the potential for extreme criminal penalties for members of the mainstream press in transit to any number of emergency scenes or any scene in which news is happening. Newspaper journalists and photographers travel as quickly as possible to fires, floods, crime scenes, terrorist attacks, accidents and every other breaking news scene one can imagine. While CNPA would argue that in no case is this driving by a journalist with the intent to capture an image of a person done “for a commercial purpose,” it is not inconceivable that a journalist or freelance photographer could be hailed into court and subjected to these new charges and more extreme penalties. The chilling impact of this proposed language is palpable.

We also note the new provisions do not require that the attempt to capture an image occur at the same time as the reckless driving violation, that the attempted capture of an image occur while the defendant is in a vehicle, moving or otherwise, or that the attempt ever occurs at all. So long as there is intent to capture an image of another person while driving recklessly, even if the time and place for that attempt is hours away and the person is not driving at all when the attempt is made, or if the attempt is never made, the enhanced punishment would appear to lie.

Again, CNPA takes no issue with laws of general application. If an employee of a member newspaper is charged and convicted of reckless driving, they should be punished the same as any other member of society. To subject a person to extreme liability solely because he or she intends to capture an image of another person, though, would put journalists in a class by themselves.

By a separate email message sent Wednesday, CNPA governmental affairs staff asked Bass and the Los Angeles City Attorney, through Bass’ staff, to consider the impact of AB 2479 on this scenario:

An officer pulls over a photojournalist.
Officer: You were driving way too close to the car in front of you.
PJ: I’m sorry officer, I was in a hurry to get to an assignment.
Officer: Where are you going?
PJ: My editor wants me to go to the steps of city hall to cover Speaker Emeritus Bass’ press conference and snap a few photographs.

Specifically, CNPA asked whether, irrespective of law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion, AB 2479 would subject this photojournalist to enhanced punishment. CNPA also asked if Bass or City Attorney Trutanich were aware of any other law on the books that couples a general intent infraction with the intent to do a perfectly lawful (and, in this case, a constitutionally protected) activity, and thereby subjects the violator to enhanced punishment? As of this writing, Bass has not responded to CNPA’s questions.

Interestingly, the August 20 amendments have yet to be analyzed by the legislature. The Senate floor analysis simply describes the amendments without comment. CNPA hopes the Assembly will refer the bill to a policy committee, such as the Assembly Public Safety Committee, for full vetting — including an analysis of whether AB 2479 is consistent with the First Amendment and California Constitution – before allowing a vote by the full Assembly.

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  • Isn’t this against the first amendment? not only that but by making law against paparazzi and photojournalists arent they being prejudice against a certain group of people?

  • I think it would be more helpful to the consumer public to just ban all photography of all Hollywood celebrities in California.

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