Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Saturday, 9 August 2008 10:14 UK

Can the LA paparazzi be tamed?

Britney Spears driving her car in Los Angeles
Britney Spears is among stars who have been under the gaze of photographers

By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles paparazzi are as much as part of Hollywood life as the studios, celebrities and publicists.

Snapping stars is big business for the legions of photographers who stake out the clubs, restaurants and shopping malls of Beverly Hills.

But all that could change if new laws are brought in to curb the activities of the paparazzi.

In recent months there have been some ugly incidents in which photographers are widely believed to have overstepped the mark.

The day Britney Spears was taken from her home on a stretcher and ferried to a local hospital, scores of tabloid photographers swarmed around her ambulance.

Flagrant flouting

A police helicopter and a dozen officers on motorbikes were drafted in to escort the singer, at a reported cost to the local authority of $25,000 (13,000).

"We can't afford to drain that type of resource from the police department," says Dennis Zine, a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

Photographer Nick Stern
Photographer Nick Stern thinks new laws would curb press freedom

"We need to come up with something to control the situation. Normally somebody is in an ambulance and it gets to the hospital without any kind of impediment.

"In this particular case it was impeded because of the paparazzi."

Tabloid photographers have also developed a reputation for flagrantly flouting traffic laws. Many will think nothing of rushing into a busy street with a camera at the ready if it means they can get a shot of a celebrity in their car.

"Everyone thinks they're going to get the photograph of the century," says Mr Zine.

"It becomes a mob mentality. It's like a pack of wolves, a swarm of bees going after their prey. That's the issue that we really need to contend with and we need to come up with a solution."

Another widely-reported skirmish involving the paparazzi occurred when actor Matthew McConaughey went surfing in Malibu.

Ethical journalism

Local surfers, apparently determined to protect their turf, ended up in a scuffle with about a dozen photographers on the beach.

Many local residents have since called for curbs to be imposed on paparazzi operating in the city. Some say they should be banned altogether.

Such a move is unlikely since it would violate freedom of the press laws that are enshrined in the US constitution.

"We need to make sure we comply with that," says Mr Zine.

We need to come up with something to control the situation
Dennis Zine, Los Angeles City Council

It has been suggested that the paparazzi should have a licence to operate, which could be revoked if they step out of line.

In addition, magazines and newspapers may be forced to employ only bona fide photographers with the necessary paperwork. A task force made up of local city officials is considering the options.

"A total clampdown, which I think is what the council is almost proposing, would be far too draconian," says Nick Stern, a British member of the LA paparazzi.

"It will stop paparazzi, but fortunately paparazzi and showbiz go hand in hand - they always have done."

At the height of the Britney Spears saga, Mr Stern quit his job with an agency that he claimed pursued the singer too aggressively.

He prefers to describe his work as that of a news photographer, although it still involves taking pictures of celebrities.

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey was involved in an incident earlier this year

"I still think there's a great call for good, ethical journalism and real journalism without having 30 or 40 large vehicles chasing a 26-year-old mother of two along Sunset Boulevard," he says.

Taming the paparazzi is likely to be an uphill struggle for Los Angeles law makers. Glossy, celebrity magazines are sold around the world with much of their content coming from the streets of Beverly Hills, Malibu and Hollywood.

"In the end I don't think anything will actually happen," says Mr Stern.

"LA has always been a bit like the Wild West, that's what makes it an exciting place. You can come here and almost anything's possible.

"There's still that feeling that you can come here and make a million overnight - so I think it needs to have that free spirit kind of atmosphere about it," he adds.

A report by Peter Bowes on the Los Angeles paparazzi can be seen on E24, broadcast on the BBC News channel on Saturday 9 August at 1045 BST and Sunday 10 August at 1745 BST.

LA police dismiss paparazzi plans
01 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Plans to 'tame' paparazzi in LA
31 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Surfers 'attack' beach paparazzo
23 Jun 08 |  Entertainment
LA's obsession with Britney Spears
16 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Gossip site to censor paparazzi
12 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Singer Spears taken to hospital
31 Jan 08 |  Entertainment

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