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Saturday, 23 November, 2002, 13:45 GMT
Fines for mobile use in NY cinemas
Baz Luhrmann
Luhrmann gets irritated by phones going off

Do people talking on mobile phones in the midst of a packed cinema while your favourite movie is playing bother you?

If so you'll be heartened by the efforts of a New York city council member who wants to outlaw such behaviour.

There are eight million stories in the naked city and even more mobile phones ringing everywhere. Increasingly New Yorkers are placing and receiving calls when they go to the movies.

But now if a new law does come into being in December - the very act of talking into a mobile phone in a cinema or any other place of public performance could become illegal and result in a $50 (£31) fine.

The drive to restrict mobile phone use comes from New York city council member Philip Reed - he and his constituents have become bothered by mobile phone users having loud conversations while watching a film.


"I have witnessed people sit in the theatre and dial their friends and give them a blow-by-blow description of what is happening," he said.

It is a government intrusion into an area of common sense and courtesy

Martin Rothfelder
Telecoms lawyer
The proposed law has strong support from cinemagoers.

"It is annoying when people in a movie theatre use their mobiles in the movie theatre. You end up missing parts of the film and wasting money," said one New Yorker.

Mobile phone use in live theatres and music venues would also be included in the ban - many showbiz figures support the proposed law but Moulin Rouge director Baz Lurhmann, who is mounting the opera La Boheme on Broadway, wonders if the punishment is appropriate.

"It's a terrible thing when a phone does go off. I do not know about the price, whether it's too much or too little," said Lurhmann.

Nikki Weispfenning, who sells cinema tickets, is one of many in the business who think the ban will be tough to enforce - that it will be hard to catch transgressors.


"Who would be there to fine them, it's a movie theatre," she said.

"You can't call the cops and have them come to the theatre to fine someone for their cell phone."

Mobile phone companies are not too happy - the new measure could cut down on revenues - they view the legislation as draconian.

Telecommunications lawyer Martin Rothfelder said: "It is a government intrusion into an area of common sense and courtesy.

"It should be addressed by theatre management by methods that available to them."

But council member Mr Reed is undeterred - he wants to use the law to modify anti-social behaviour and send a message.

"You just need to close it up, turn it off, put it in your pocket and enjoy the show," he said.

Last year New York became the first state to outlaw use of hand-held phones by motorists - if Mr Reed has his way - it could also become the first to punish cinemagoers for anti-social behaviour.

Do you welcome the mobile ban? Would you like to see similar legislation in Britain? Should mobile phone use be a legally punishable or is it a cultural matter of manners?

Your reaction.

If you think its bad in the UK, I just got back from watching a movie here in Los Angeles. The whole cinema talked their way through the film. I got a running commentary about what was going on in front of my own eyes! On top of that cell phones and pagers were going off every 2 minutes. The ushers even gave up after a while!
ashton, USA

I wonder how enforceable this would be?

Sierra, Hong Kong
This is extremely common in Hong Kong as well. I actually avoid going to the cinema, as it is so stressful when you are trying to watch a film and people are chatting away on their phones. I would welcome any measures to fine people who have no respect for others around them, but I do wonder how enforceable this would be. People currently take no notice of the announcements to switch off their phones.
Sierra, Hong Kong

I think it is a reasonable measure, although being able to stay connected is why people are getting mobiles in the first place. What if you have kids at home with a teenaged babysitter and want to stay connected if something happens to them? there are different angles to this problem
Nadia Targulian, Russia

Will the UK take the sensible option and follow suit? Although most cinemas I have been to have an amusing advert to inform people to turn their phone off, its surprising how many phone users become deaf and blind while the advert is on, as within 2 minutes you can usually hear a ridiculously loud and irritating ring tone, or half the cinema gets lit up by SMS users.
Nicky , Wales

Why don't they just put up signal blocking panels on all the walls? All you have to do is sandwich a layer of nickel-zinc ferrite between thin slices of wood. It's a cheap and legal way to stop people using mobile phones.
Martin Maskell, UK

In New York, as I have had the misfortune to experience many a time, the problem isn't just mobile phone users but talkers in general. Filmgoers are happy to talk, at great volume, through the entire film. At one film, a repertory showing of Fred Astaire's "Shall We Dance?", the couple in front of us spent much of the film talking about fixing their washing machine!
Andrew, UK

The presence of doctors on call means that jamming signals is illegal.

Alex, UK
This is the sort of thing that has made me stop going to the cinema and watch at home on DVD. Regrettably the presence of doctors on call etc means that jamming signals is illegal.
Alex, UK

About time, I have a friend who takes his mobile into a cinema turns the sound off and doesn't take any calls... but regularly checks for SMS's, whatever film is on I am still distracted by the light emitted from the phone :(
Mike, UK

Why not just make it legal to jam cell-phone signals in such places? The technology is already there, it just needs to be legal to implement it.
Aris, UK

Increased contactability is actually an affliction

Matthew Baty, London, UK
It seems to me that the more people that have and use mobile phones, the more people find reasons for self-importance. Some genuinely feel that missing a call equates to losing a major business deal, offending a friend, and spurning a lover. What tosh. The world went around before mobile phones, and increased contactability is actually an affliction in many cases. Using a phone in a cinema, although sadly common, is outrageous. Those doing so should at least be removed from the theatre and fined.
Matthew Baty, London, UK

You pay to see a film in a cinema, this is then potentially wasted when the experience is continually interrupted by mobile phones. If this became a regular thing I for would stop going to the cinema and wait for DVD release. A clever cinema would enforce a ban anyway, what is losing one noisy customer compared to many other quieter customers.
Andrew Harding, Britain

I strongly recommend an instant death penalty for such talkers, enforced by special cinema stormtroopers equipped with infra red goggles and silenced automatic weapons.
James Moran, UK

Unfortunately there are people who don't have manners and need to be poked by the long arm of the law to make them behave.
Scott Wylie, UK

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07 Jun 01 | UK
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