The paparazzi are under attack Photographers get blame for deaths

September 01, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- They hide in bushes, they hang from helicopters, they ride motorboats in hot pursuit of their prey. They are the paparazzi, the determinedly resourceful free-lance photographers who provide the world's print media with photos of celebrities in private and public moments.

And now the paparazzi are under attack, because of the death of Britain's Princess Diana early yesterday in an auto accident in Paris after a high-speed chase by French press photographers on motorcycles and in cars.

"I would say that I always believed the press would kill her in the end," Earl Charles Spencer, Diana's brother, said yesterday. "It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana's image, has blood on his hands today."

Even as people mourned her death, pictures of Diana entangled in the wreckage of the crash were being offered to editors for more than $1 million, according to Steve Coz, editor of the National Enquirer. Coz called for a worldwide boycott of the pictures.

French police have detained seven photographers who were apparently trailing the Mercedes that carried Diana and her companion, Dodi Al Fayed. Diana, Fayed and their driver were all killed after the car crashed in a tunnel. France Info radio said at least some of the photographers took pictures before help arrived. Six of the photographers were French, and one was Macedonian.

British politicians called for tightening the country's press laws and joined Spencer in blaming the press for the deaths.

"The world cannot be the same again after this tragedy," said David Mellor, whose rise in politics was interrupted by a scandal reported by the British press. He said Diana "has been taken away from us by her hatred and fear of these photographers."

Lord Wakeham, chairman of Britain's Press Complaints Commission, said, "There will be a lot of shouting. But let's stand back and see what is the purpose of a piece of legislation in this country reflecting a problem that occurred on the streets of Paris."

Some commentators said the press was simply feeding the public's enormous appetite for stories about celebrities.

"There is a kind of ghastly way in which we are all responsible, I suppose," said Ben Pimlott, a biographer of Queen Elizabeth II. "There is a way in which she was public property, the world's property, perhaps, and the world has consumed her."

Diana became the most photographed woman in the world and spent her last years stalked by paparazzi, who snapped her picture for a price. Virtually her every move was followed by cameramen armed with high-speed shutters and bazooka-style lenses.

Diana once described a "normal day" in which she was followed by camera men in four cars and then later hounded by "six free-lancers jumping around me." She said the British media decided she was "still a product" that sold well.

"When I started my public life 12 years ago, I understood the media must be interested in what I did," she said in a speech while still married to Prince Charles. "I realized then, their attention would inevitably focus on both our private and public lives. But I was not aware of how overwhelming that attention would become."

There was a time when royal press secretaries told the papers what to write -- and what not to write -- and editors complied. In 1936, British press barons engaged in a months-long "conspiracy of silence," to cover up the romance of Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson of Baltimore. But the last vestiges of the old rules were destroyed when Charles wooed and wed Diana in 1981.

Charles and Diana quickly became a full-time occupation for the paparazzi, the descendants of the photographers in the 1950s who rode motor scooters along Rome's Via Veneto to find American film stars and European royalty.

Federico Fellini immortalized the photographers in his 1960 film "La Dolce Vita," basing a character on the best known of the photographers, Tazio Secchiaroli. Fellini tagged the character "Paparazzo," and the name was applied to the whole profession.

But the free-lancer's mood and techniques gradually changed. What initially seemed fun-loving became intensively competitive; images of celebrities who wanted to be seen were supplanted by photos taken when celebrities assumed they were finally alone.

"It's high time to put an end to this, an end to the stake-outs and chases," opera star Luciano Pavarotti told the Italian news agency Ansa.

Actor Tom Cruise said the media must be curbed. "You don't know what it's like being chased by them," he told Cable News Network. "It is harassment under the guise of, you know, 'We are the press; we are entitled,' and when people are having a private moment, they should be allowed to have a private moment."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.