LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – Mel Gibson and Paris Hilton have inspired California lawmakers to propose legislation to protect celebrities caught breaking the law.
Amid concern over the frenzy of entertainment internet blogs and tabloids competing for inside information on Gibson’s tirade during a drunk-driving arrest and Hilton’s days in jail, state lawmakers have taken steps to clamp down on some forms of chequebook journalism.
A bill currently going through the Legislature will – if passed – make it a crime for law enforcement or court employees to profit by releasing confidential information gathered in criminal investigations or unauthorised photographs of people in custody.
The proposed legislation – which was requested by controversial Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose staff dealt with Gibson and Hilton – has outraged the media in the golden state. Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association said the measure would whittle away press freedoms for the convenience of celebrities.
“It’s the Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson Protection Act,” he told The Los Angeles Times.
“Fundamentally, it attempts to regulate news gathering and criminalise it.”But proponents said outlawing celebrity leaks and punishing public employees who take cash from the media was a necessary move to restore faith in the state’s justice system following allegations of law enforcement officials providing prohibited information for cash
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who introduced the bill at Sheriff Baca’s request, said the digital media age and obsession with celebrity news made the law a necessity. “I felt it was important to help law enforcement to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system,” she said.
“So-called traditional media (have) obtained information and pictures through official channels and via the Public Records Act.
“The new Internet media and others have recently been attempting to circumvent the system by offering law enforcement officials money for information and pictures of celebrities.”
Ms Brownley said the bill would not quash acts protected by state whistle-blower laws, including the release of information involving allegations of improper activity by government agencies or officials. Sheriff Baca’s office is investigating the leak of Gibson’s police report to LA celebrity news agency blog TMZ after the star’s arrest in July last year – which subsequently made headlines around the world.