Celebrities and privacy

August 12, 2013 |

The tension between celebrities and the media over privacy is ongoing and occasionally flares up into open conflict, physical and legal.  To what extent do celebrities give up a right to privacy when they selectively seek out publicity seems to be the argument. The proposition is, of course, fatuous.  Because someone’s life involves publicity, such as an actor, politician or celebrity, does not mean their right to seclusion is extinguished.  There is no hypocrisy in engaging with the media in the course of work or even by choice and having a desire and entitlement to privacy in other aspects of one’s life, such as with family, children especially.   Variety in  Celebs Can’t Expect Privacy – But What About Their Kids?looks at that issue.  The law has considered this issue in the UK.  In Murray v Big Pictures (UK) Ltd[2008] EWCA Civ 446 the Court of Appeal found that the children of celebrities were entitled to freedom from media intrusion.  The seminal decision of Hosking v Runting [2004] NZCA 34 where the New Zealand Court of Appeal established a tort of privacy involved photographs of the appellants’ children. In Australia the basis for the protection would be grounded in equity, following the UK line of authority rather than the New Zealand approach.

The article provides as follows:

Already prone to oversharing via Facebook and social media, we’re also promoting rudeness and gawking

Kanye West recently made headlines again by teeing off on a member of the paparazzi. The knee-jerk reaction is understandable: Another privileged, pampered celebrity. Boo-hoo. If you can’t handle fame or being filmed, you’re probably well advised not to hook up with a Kardashian.

And yet…

While nobody should endorse violence, seeing paparazzi in action makes it unsurprising that people are tempted to take a poke at them. And while it’s easy to hide behind a shield of press freedom, given the legitimate concerns about security and privacy, the issue is genuinely more nuanced than that.

Los Angeles residents in certain communities surely have a different perspective than the public at large. As a regular patron of the Studio City Farmers Market, I’ve been regularly treated to evidence of how intrusive such picture-takers can be, shoving cameras into the faces of celebs while they spend a lazy Sunday with their kids, paying for overpriced pony rides and produce.

Word has clearly gotten around that this is a good place to spot actors in unguarded moments. And while some of the paparazzi endeavor to be respectful, both to the stars and those milling around, others go bolting through the throngs, brandishing telephoto lenses with an intensity that suggests Jesus, or at least a few Apostles, have made an unscheduled appearance.

Obviously, there’s a first-amendment lifeline here, which is immediately where outlets like TMZ retreat when confronted about such tactics. “Kanye West just lashed out at a TMZ cameraguy,” the site posted after a recent flare-up with the rapper, “simply ’cause he’s an egomaniac who thinks he’s bigger than the Constitution.”

As much as everyone likes the Constitution, though, it’s a little harder to endorse blanket protection of those first-amendment rights when the “journalist” keeps repeating “Kanye, I love you, man,” and wants to blow the lid off Kim’s morning sickness.

There’s also the matter of privacy, and whether famous people should be allowed any zone in which they’re not viewed as lab rats, where the presumption is that they belong to those of us living vicariously through their success.

Legislative attempts to curb paparazzi haven’t done much to rein in their behavior, and new technology has added avenues and immediacy to posting video and capitalizing on the pop-culture hunger for celebrity-driven content. Many feel some photogs provoke encounters, knowing that a “So-and-so runs amok!” headline is a surefire way to generate traffic and sales.

A recent effort has hinged on providing additional safeguards for celebs when accompanied by their children, with Halle Berry recently testifying before California’s legislature about the pending provision.

“I understand that there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up,” the actress told the Assembly’s public safety committee, but cited a distinction regarding children “and their fear of leaving their house and feeling they cannot move in the world in a safe way.”

There’s logic and emotional resonance in that argument — namely, while stars have willingly embraced the spotlight and (at least to some extent) the associated headaches, their young kids didn’t sign up for the harassment.

Perhaps the more troubling issue, which can’t simply be legislated away, is what this says about our society. Already prone to oversharing via Facebook and social media, we’re promoting rudeness and gawking, including via those irritating open-air vans that seem to crisscross every posh section of Los Angeles, pointing out celebrity homes (or more often, the hedges in front of them).

Consider the case of Aaron Paul, who recently surprised a tour bus by venturing outside to say hello. Although that’s certainly a nice gesture, nowhere does the story bother to ask why we’ve become so cavalier about the notion that an actor on “Breaking Bad” has to cheerfully accept having random strangers led directly to his doorstep.

Ultimately, given the competing notions of privacy and celebrity, not to mention commerce, there’s no completely neat or tidy solution. Yet if the assumption is that nobody gets inconvenienced except the star being filmed, tell that to their kids — or for that matter, to the folks just trying to mind their own business at the farmers market.

In a related piece Variety reports on the California’s legislature’s attempt to protect the privacy of celebrities children. It provides:

California lawmakers are weighing legislation that will put limits on photographers who harass children of celebrities as they capture shots for magazines, photo agencies and other media.

The measure is being opposed by press associations, as well as the MPAA, which say that it is written too broadly to survive First Amendment challenges.

Nevertheless, the bill received a P.R. boost last week when Halle Berry testified before the Assembly public safety committee, telling of her daughter’s fears of photographers leaping out in front of her as her mother drops her off for school. The bill is scheduled to go before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on August 11 or 12.

Legislation was passed in 1994 to address harassment of children of healthcare workers where abortion procedures were performed, and it has been applied to other controversial professions. The latest bill, authored by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat, increases civil and criminal penalties but also adds to the definition of harassment to include “conduct occurring during the course of any actual or attempted recording” of a child’s image or voice, without parental consent, and while following or “lying in wait” to do so.

“I understand that there is a certain amount of my own privacy that I have to give up,” Berry said last week in Sacramento. “There’s a tradeoff. …However, when it comes to my child, and their fear of leaving their house and feeling they cannot move in the world in a safe way, that is when as a mother I have to step up for my rights as a woman.”

A legislative analysis prepared for the Assembly public safety committee said that the language aimed at photographers was “arguably unconstitutionally vague.” Melissa Patack, VP for state governmental affairs at the MPAA, said that existing laws, like those on constructive invasion of privacy and false imprisonment, addresses some of the same issues as the proposed bill. There is reason for their opposition, as media companies own celebrity magazine shows and other entities that report on Hollywood. Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., a member of the MPAA, owns the website TMZ, which relies heavily on paparazzi shots.

“In this modern era when every person with a phone is a photographer, we want to ensure that this bill does not encroach on the ability to snap a picture,” Patack said in testimony last week. “We want to ensure that it is aimed at the aggressive conduct. And we want to protect against lawsuits that will be brought against those who exercise important First Amendment rights.”

De Leon, however, said that “nothing in this measure prohibits anyone from taking a picture of a celebrity or his or her child. Nothing prohibits TMZ or a gaggle of paparazzi from taking any picture. It prevents them from physically harassing or intimidating a child. Those are two very distinct arguments.”

He said that Berry approached his office about the issue, but he had been mulling some sort of legislation following the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD police officer who targeted and threatened officers and their families.The legislation also is designed to protect children of judges and others in professions that run into controversies.

In her case, Berry pointed to video of her return from Hawaii in April at LAX, where photographers surrounded her and her fiance, Olivier Martinez, holding her daughter. “Get away from the child!” Berry shouted at the horde at the time.

Some supporters indicated that language in the bill would be refined to balance First Amendment concerns.

There has been a contribution (of sorts) on the subject of celebrities and privacy in the weekend’s Fairfax press with Do celebrities deserve privacy? It is a piece that defies easy explanation.  Or understanding.  Incoherent is the best description for it.  A stream of cute(ish) anecdotes in desperate search of a story or even a vague theme.  A slight contribution to the debate, or least I think it might be.  More a chance of mentioning Angelina Jollie and Elle McPherson in the same story.  Here it is in all its glory:

It’s probably the most hackneyed plea from inside the celebrity bubble: ”Please respect our privacy.”

In the age of selfies fuelling narcissistic social media feeds, I have two words: Privacy schmivacy.

Why are you being so coy? Just a few quotes, darl, that’s all.  

If anyone has the means and know-how to maintain a private life, it would be person who have lived their lives bathed in the public gaze and been paid millions upon millions of dollars to do so.

It costs a lot of money to fly in private jets, hire private islands and employ teams of bodyguards and assistants whose sole job is to co-ordinate your movements around the globe without detection.

Angelina Jolie managed to slip into Sydney completely under the radar. We didn’t even know she had been here until after she left.

Jolie has become skilled at shaking the press, as shown by her announcement about her pre-emptive double mastectomy, and the subsequent media coverage it generated.

Then there was last weekend’s news about Elle Macpherson. The Body caused a media sensation when it emerged she had married her fiance, Miami billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, in Fiji.

With scarce details, the media were left with the barest of crumbs to serve an audience hungry to know more. It was one of the hottest stories of the weekend.

A few days later, it emerged the wedding had actually taken place weeks ago, and the news had only just started to leak, and rather conveniently so for Elle and co.

Apparently, it was ”just a small group of friends and family” who flew to Fiji for the wedding, with just 15 guests in total.

The ceremony took place in mid-July, and was attended by Australian-born Macpherson’s sons, Arpad Flynn, 15, and 10-year-old Aurelius Cy.

It took place inside a private villa at the ”beautiful Laucala Resort”, according to Who magazine.

But surely we can expect a little more from a woman who has built a career and made a fortune out of courting public attention. She’s flogged us bras and knickers, sunscreen and even buckets of KFC, so is it too much to hear a bit about one of the most joyous days of her life?

In the August edition of Harpers Bazaar Australia, she says: ”It’s not a new relationship. It’s been in my life a long time. So I’m not all giddy-just-fallen-in-love. But I have a profound … love … for the men in my life – and that includes my children.”

She was also somewhat philosophic about the relationship. ”I’m less likely to take things for granted as I continue on life’s journey, and I truly appreciate the value of a partnership, whether it be a business alliance or finding the perfect client.

”I’ve always been in very loving relationships, so every relationship has been special, but this one particularly.”

Yes, yes, Elle, that’s all very good, but why are you being so coy? Just a few quotes, darl, that’s all. Even the most benign of details … such as, what did you wear?

You know, at the age of 49 and having been down the aisle before, a lot of people are very interested to hear your thoughts on why you decided to do it all again. What makes this guy so special?

But alas, they want their privacy.

Granted, this is a delicate subject when it comes to Macpherson, who featured prominently in the phone-hacking scandal that continues to rock Rupert Murdoch’s global media octopus.

The scandal also caused much grief to Macpherson’s former marketing adviser and friend, Sydney-raised Mary-Ellen Field, who, unlike her famous former boss, does not have the fame or fortune to insulate herself.

It was Field who took on Murdoch’s empire after she was fired by Macpherson, who accused her of tipping off the press about her celebrity clients – claims Field constantly denied. But Field could not convince the supermodel she was wrong.

Then it emerged Macpherson’s phone had been hacked by Murdoch’s henchmen, but while the Body has moved on, Field’s life has been left in tatters.

Privacy schmivacy indeed.

It is a strange day indeed when Variety provides a more coherent commentary than a Fairfax piece.


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