• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Malibu and the First Amendment: The Paparazzi Follies
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
It’s show time for the paparazzi regulation debate in Malibu. None other than the impresario of the so-called “Britney Bubble Law” is bringing his traveling troupe to town. Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, having taken his anti-paparazzi crusade to The Daily Show (complete with PG-13 comments), Dr. Phil, and nearly every talk radio show within earshot of Southern California, is coming to the Malibu Performing Arts Center on Oct. 2 to bring the community the word that the First Amendment shouldn’t stand in the way of one of the best publicity vehicles that a politician in a world entertainment center could have, even if there aren’t many celebrities in their own district.
Zine chairs the Los Angeles Regional Paparazzi Task Force, which is unofficial and is not even endorsed by most of his council colleagues, let alone his city’s police chief who says enough laws exist to curb miscreant paparazzi. If this sounds familiar, that’s because the volunteer legal-scholars-from-one-law-school-only Malibu committee-commission-project-task force, or any of the other terms used by its sole creator and coordinator, is also unofficial, and the rest of the community’s city council members have declined to give it official status.
Legal scholars who espouse a philosophy that the First Amendment should be construed more narrowly in the “post-9-11” era (but not necessarily the Second Amendment, or other rules of law they might favor) may think they can ramrod free press and free speech constraints through a U.S. Supreme Court that is friendly to their cause, but it appears that the majority of Constitutional experts who are not engaged in similar polemic and proselytization see things very differently.
First Amendment experts are still studying the Malibu draft anti-paparazzi ordinances, but many have already weighed in on Councilmember Zine’s bubble notion. He wants a law that would create a “personal safety zone” between the paparazzi and celebrities. Just don’t ask for specifics. There’s no definition of how large the bubble would be—five feet, 50 feet or 500 feet? And don’t ask what a “celebrity” is. Or who. Would a master list have to be created of who qualifies for special camera-free status? How often would it be updated?
Apart from gutting First Amendment protections, how enforceable is a law that would require a police officer or sheriff’s deputy to carry a tape measure and a celebrity handbook, as well as be able to differentiate in an instant between paparazzi, traditional news media and camera-toting tourists?
What is certain is that Zine and his acolytes in Malibu want to create special taxpayer underwritten privileges for whoever meets their definition of celebrity. Those in the limelight enjoy many perks. If they want to protect their privacy, there are ways. But when they, or we, are in the public arena, the First Amendment has to prevail. If the government can decide who is allowed to take photos in public, content control is not far behind.