Monday, August 27, 2007

When News is a Crime

I promised myself some time ago that I would stop wallowing in the
journalistic mud known as the celebrity beat.

No more wasted words about the boozy escapades of what passes for talent
these days.
Au revoir, Paris. Bye, Brittany. Later, Lindsay.


It seems the California legislature is poised to prohibit me, and any
other journalist, from digging up dirt on stars gone wild.

A bill currently in play in Sacramento would make it a crime for law
enforcement of court employees to profit by releasing confidential
information gathered in criminal investigations or unauthorized photographs
of people in custody.

There's nothing like an assault on the First Amendment to make me want to
sign up for a job on the Hollywood desk.

The legislation is the brainchild of Sheriff Lee Baca who said it was
needed to preserve the integrity of the justice system at a time that a photo
of Paris Hilton in jail could fetch $500,000.

"It's like putting a bounty on her," Baca told the Los Angeles Times.

Sorry, Lee. It's more like the Mel Gibson Protection Act.

You remember, Mel. He was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving last
July and used the occasion to launch into an anti-Semitic tirade.

We know that because details of Gibson's behavior contained in the arrest
record were leaked to an entertainment blog, apparently by a deputy,
making Mel's conduct front page news for days.

The same TMZ also showed a video of a rapper known as The Game in jail
after he was arrested for allegedly making criminal threats. The video was
shot by an officer using a cell phone and showed the entertainer waving a wad
of money.

Then there were allegations made by deputies that Paris Hilton received
special treatment during her time in jail, including hand delivered mail and
access to a free cell phone while prisoners had to wait in line to use a pay

It's enough to make a sheriff spring into action.

But as the legislation is written, most of this stuff would still have
made it into the public domain.

That's because the bill would make it a misdemeanor for those entrusted
with information to received financial gain in exhange for confidential
information obtained in a criminal investigation or to solicit or offer
financial compensation for such information.

No one involved in the Gibson, Hilton or The Game incidents have been
found to have asked for or received any compensation financial or otherwise
for the information they provided.

Until someone does accept "financial gain," whether that's cash or a cup
of coffee, all this bill does is attempt to regulate news gathering and keep
the public in the dark. And to save Baca further embarassment.

I'm no advocate of checkbook journalism. If you pay for gossip, you're
going to get more gossip in exchange for more paydays, the facts be damned.
It's the law of the marketplace.

Besides, most people talk for free. Nobody got paid a nickel when
Watergate was being reported.

Finally, the bill would not prohibit a newspaper or blog from publishing
information obtained improperly. And it would not quash acts protected by
state whistle-blower laws, according to its author, Julia Brownley (D-Santa

So assuming Baca has the power to discipline any of his deputies he finds
selling information out the back door, what exactly does this bill

Nothing more than delivering a blow to press freedoms.

No comments: