Calif. anti-paparazzi charges dismissed

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A superior court judge in Los Angeles yesterday threw out charges filed under a California law targeting reckless driving by photographers pursuing celebrities.

The state can curb unsafe driving by paparazzi most effectively through traffic laws, not by targeting free-press rights protected by the First Amendment, Judge Thomas Rubinson said.

In dismissing counts filed against a photographer who chased pop star Justin Bieber, the judge noted that the law, which increases penalties for reckless driving while shooting photos for commercial purposes, would potentially affect more than just paparazzi. A wedding photographer rushing to a ceremony or an amateur photographer who happens across a newsworthy event would also be subject to the law, the judge said, according to the Associated Press.

Rubinson’s decision is an affirmation that states should be very cautious about targeting the activities of a free press, particularly when existing laws can accomplish the same societal goals. If the law is truly designed to discourage unsafe driving, rather than punish those who photograph celebrities, then traffic laws should suffice.

Most mainstream news organizations are repulsed by the predatory practices of some paparazzi, but they recognize that any effort to criminalize newsgathering is a threat to all.

Prosecutors say they’ll appeal the judge’s decision, which means an appellate court can decide whether to invalidate the law. Still, the best solution lies with the Legislature. Speeding and reckless driving can and should be penalized, regardless of who’s behind the wheel and what they’re rushing to accomplish.