By Michael Goldstein
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By LA Weekly
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Further bolstering the impression that he is not yet ready to take the California bar exam, Zine implies that elected government leaders sitting on their lofty thrones have a right to pass judgment on who is a member of the press and who isn't. "The paparazzi, for the most part, are not credentialed media," he huffs. "There's a distinction between someone who just has a camera and ... credentialed, legitimate media."
That might be true in private conference rooms or in certain public places, like courthouses, where limited space results in journalists having to be screened, but it is not the case on the streets, says Douglas Lee, a Dixon, Illinois-based attorney who has handled media law for the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers.
"This notion we can somehow identify who's legitimate [press] and who's not is something government has never been involved in and runs contrary to everything the First Amendment is based on," Lee says. "What inevitably will happen, if you allow government to say who can take pictures and who can't, is that somebody will make that decision based on the content of what will come out" in the photos. An essential thrust of the First Amendment, Lee adds, "is that government is going to stay out of regulating the press."
CONSTITUTIONAL CONCERNS ASIDE, legal experts have a field day speculating on the practical problems. If the bubble around celebrities is 10 feet, who will determine whether a photographer was a legal 10 feet, two inches away or an illegal nine feet, 11 inches away?
"It's not like a football field," chortles Corn-Revere, evoking images of officials hustling to stretch out chains. "Plus, presumably, celebrities are going to be in motion." That might put a photographer in legal jeopardy for merely standing his ground. To avoid possible fines or arrest, a photographer might actually have to turn and flee.
It's also anyone's guess whether certain top-tier stars would be "'licensed' for protection," as the London Times speculated. The ordinance might have to address whether Zine himself would have the prerogative to move about in a camera-free zone, and whether privileged status would apply to celebrity mass murderers — the next Charles Manson hauled into Parker Center.
"Celebrities, because of their celebrity status, should have far less expectation" of protection from the media than noncelebrities, points out Ronald K.L. Collins of the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. "If you put yourself out in the public limelight and enjoy the glow of that light, you have to endure the flash bulbs."
Libel laws already reflect that principle, but Los Angeles City Council members have never been particularly astute about the Constitution. Craig Smith, director of the Center for First Amendment Studies at Cal State Long Beach, recalls a proposal by former Councilman Mike Feuer aimed at banning liquor ads on certain billboards. The city ignored Smith's opinion that the law was likely unconstitutional — only to have the courts strike it down.
"City councils often do what's going to make their constituents happy without thinking about the U.S. Constitution," Smith says.
As if to prove that true, Zine vows to push full speed ahead. Other than paparazzi, "Everyone thinks it's wonderful," he says of his plan. "We've heard from celebrities, their agents, publicists and even the Screen Actors Guild."
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