Legislation & Lobbying

Paris Hilton & Mel Gibson Protection Act?

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A bill being considered in the California legislature attempts to regulate checkbook journalism and private investigators who pay for confidential information.

The legislation, AB 920, would make it a misdemeanor for law enforcement personnel and court employees to profit by releasing confidential information or permitting photographs of a person in jail to be made public. While this obviously could impact celebrity journalism, the proposed bill would also cover ordinary citizens, and includes information and photographs provided to nonjournalists, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Proponents, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, say the law is needed to preserve the integrity of the justice system. A photo of a jailed Paris Hilton—and, in fact, no such photo was never published—could have been worth $500,000, according to media experts. “It was like putting a bounty on her,” Baca said of the recent media frenzy over the hotel heiress’ brief incarceration for violating her probation for an alcohol-related traffic offense.

Opponents say the law is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

“It’s the Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson Protection Act,” says Tom Newton, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “Fundamentally, it attempts to regulate news gathering and criminalize it.”

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