Paparazzi and Pursuit of Privacy PUBLIC INTEREST?

By Sam Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

Paparazzi and Pursuit of Privacy PUBLIC INTEREST?


Sam Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


From the moment Buckingham Palace announced her engagement to the Prince of Wales, Lady Diana Spencer provided a beguiling canvas.

She fell in love with a prince and raised two rambunctious boys. She confessed to a loveless marriage and shook the foundations of the British monarchy. She forged her own formidable life and fell in love anew.

In each of these moments, as in her last, the Princess of Wales was pursued by cameras. The people behind them have made her the world's most famous woman. They have provided her a platform and helped nurture a global affection perhaps unequaled in history.

But they have also played a role in her death.

Although the events of Saturday night in Paris remain murky -prosecutors say the driver of the car that crashed had an illegal level of alcohol in his blood - it is relatively clear that the princess was engaged in a game of pursuit and evasion with a pack of French paparazzi. For this reason, whatever the investigation reveals, this tragedy is likely to complicate an already troubling question: whether the brunt of fame's burdens should rest on celebrities, or the men and women who make them.

"Celebrities use the media and the media uses them," says Todd Gitlin, a media sociologist at New York University. "Celebrities don't like all the moves of the media. They'd rather have privacy on their terms; but they are definitely not ready to do entirely without inquiring reporters or cameras."

It's a reality all too familiar to publishers and producers of all sorts, who find that features on famous people like Diana often turn enormous profits. The proliferation of media, and the spread of entertainment across national boundaries, they say, has exposed public people and performers to a vast and lucrative audience.

"There's no doubt that we are servicing a celebrity culture," says Patrick McCarthy, publisher of W magazine, in an ABC News interview. "I don't know how you would publish a paper or a magazine or produce a television news show without pictures of famous people."

The problem, some observers say, is that photographs and personal tidbits about such people often come at a price - and the people who collect them are most often freelancers who are not held accountable for their behavior.

Indeed, celebrity photographers seem to be behaving more boldly. On May 1, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were ambushed by celebrity photographers and trapped in their Mercedes-Benz between two cars piloted by paparazzi.

After a television show produced by the Paramount Pictures television group ran a broadcast about his girlfriend, actor George Clooney urged a boycott of "video paparazzi" footage. …

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