| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES For years Hollywood's paparazzi
have hounded celebrities, but now -- with help from local
politicians, a lawyer in the Monica Lewinsky case, and even
Malibu surfers -- they are the ones feeling the heat.
In Los Angeles and the nearby beachside enclave of Malibu,
city leaders want to slap restrictions on the paparazzi citing
safety concerns. But the paps, along with legal experts, say
they are protected by their right to free speech under the U.S.
"The paparazzo is just as much covered by the First
Amendment as you or I, or any Joe Schmo up the street," said
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Virginia-based
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
"I don't think under any First Amendment law you can single
out a paparazzi photographer," she said.
Still, many people are trying.
Numerous Hollywood celebrities, ranging from Mel Gibson to
Britney Spears, have homes in posh Malibu and as a result, it
has become a magnet for photographers looking for stars.
In late June, several Malibu surfers swarmed some paparazzi
who had gathered at a beach to get shots of "Fool's Gold" actor
Matthew McConaughey, 38, as he surfed.
A fight ensued, was captured on video and posted online
showing the shirtless surfers -- some apparently holding beer
bottles -- battling with the photographers.
"No one who lives here wants you here," one surfer yells.
TAXING THE PAPS
One week later, peace seemed to reign on Malibu's beaches
as surfers handed out flowers to the paparazzi in a gesture of
goodwill after the two groups traded threats online for days
and as sheriff's deputies patrolled to prevent further fights.
Still, Malibu officials are considering regulations that
include buffer zones around certain areas, licensing
photographers and taxing revenues from the photos they take.
Malibu City Councilman Andy Stern supports new rules, but
declined to say specifically what is under consideration.
He told Reuters he himself has experienced perilous
situations as paparazzi tailed celebrities on a key stretch of
highway in Malibu.
"My obligation is to protect everyone, not just the
paparazzi," Stern said. "If they want us to ignore them, that's
just not going to happen."
Malibu officials are getting advice from Kenneth Starr, the
attorney whose investigation of former President Bill Clinton
led to the uncovering of his sexual liaison with Monica
Lewinsky and caused his impeachment. Starr is dean of the
Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu.
Earlier this year in nearby Los Angeles, City Councilman
Dennis Zine proposed restrictions on the paparazzi, suggesting
they be kept several feet away from stars they photograph.
"It's becoming more combative where people are saying
they've had enough with these people," Zine said.
"Right now, you have no laws that really apply. You have a
chaotic situation that keeps on getting worse," he said.
Zine points to the 1997 death of Princess Diana, who was
killed in the Paris car crash along with companion Dodi
al-Fayed as the paparazzi pursued them, as an example of why
Los Angeles needs restrictions on celebrity photographers.
NOT SO FAST, COUNCILMAN
The number of paparazzi tailing Hollywood's young elite has
swelled in recent years, and dozens of photographers often
crowd celebrity hot spots. In decades past, top restaurants and
clubs attracted only three or four.
Starchasing is easier for the paparazzi in California and
the United States than in some countries in Europe, where
privacy laws favor stars. In France, for example, the paps
often must get a celebrity's permission to take and distribute
Lower costs for photo equipment and growing demand from
magazine editors for shots of celebrities doing every-day
things -- instead of looking coiffed on the red carpet -- also
has contributed to the growing numbers of paparazzi.
"They want to see them with their hair kind of messed up,
they want to see them with maybe some spaghetti sauce on their
shirt, they want to see them a little bit pudgy," said Brad
Elterman, co-owner of Los Angeles-based agency Buzz Foto.
Paparazzi -- many of whom are immigrants -- can sell the
same picture to different magazines and make thousands of
dollars on a single shot, an income stream that affords top
photographers nice cars and flexible hours, Elterman said.
"It's like the Mafia, once you're in you never want to
leave," he said.
Experts said that authorities in California could crack
down on the paparazzi's excesses by enforcing current traffic
and trespassing laws. Still, those clamp-downs would not affect
the ease with which unflattering celebrity photos are
transmitted on the Internet, or the public's demand for more.
"We're in an age where no one really knows where the lines
can or should be drawn," said Gary Morgan, CEO of the
L.A.-based celebrity photo agency Splash News.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte
and Eddie Evans)