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The two women testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of a bill that its supporters say would protect celebrities’ children from harassment by photographers.
“We’re moms here who are just trying to protect our children,” Berry told the legislators. “These are little innocent children who didn’t ask to be celebrities. They didn’t ask to be thrown into this game, and they don’t have the wherewithal to process what’s happening. We don’t have a law in place to protect them from this.”
Handing the microphone over to Garner, Berry said: “I want you to hear that it’s not just me.”
At times choking back tears, Garner gave legislators a detailed account of what it’s like to be a celebrity with children constantly hounded by the paparazzi.
“I chose a public life and understand that this means sacrifices in terms of privacy for our jobs,” the actress said. “In my case this means that I am sometimes photographed. However my three children are private citizens and more than that — at one, 4 and 7 years old — they’re just little kids.”
With prices for photos of celebrity children “absurdly high,” Garner said it’s like her children “have a bounty on their heads.”
“Literally every day there are as many as 15 cars of photographers waiting outside our home,” she said. “In the course of our ordinary day — trips to school, pediatrician, ballet or the grocery store — paparazzi swarm. Large aggressive men swarm us, causing a mob scene, yelling, jockeying for a position, crowding around the kids.
“My 17-month-old baby is terrified and cries. My 4-year-old says, ‘Why do these men never smile? Why do they never go away? Why are they always with us?'”
The actress said that “being stalked is hard for me but it’s beyond what a child should have to endure.”
She said she worries about the psychological toll on her kids. “What happens to the mind of a child when the only thing they see from the outside world is aggression, hostility and pursuit?
“And what, God forbid, does this culture of stalking children create?” Garner said. “What message does it send to say my children may be targeted and hounded by any means necessary without limits and that my husband and I can do nothing to protect them?”
Recalling the crazed man who went to prison for stalking her, Garner told the assembly members: “There are violent, mentally ill stalkers who can now get close to my kids by simply following mobs of photographers and blending in — like the very man who threatened to cut the babies out of my belly. Who was arrested waiting behind our daughter’s preschool, standing among the throng of paparazzi. That man is still in prison, but I have no doubt there are others like him still out there.”
She added: “How often do we see a tragedy unfold and say: ‘There were so many warning signs. Why didn’t anyone pay attention?’ I’m asking you as a parent to pay attention. Would you do anything different for your children? I love my kids. They’re beautiful, sweet and innocent.
“And I don’t want a gang of shouting, arguing, law-breaking photographers to camp out everywhere we are, all day, every day, to continue traumatizing my kids.”
The actresses’ impassioned testimony carried the day, and the measure — SB 606 — was voted out of the Judiciary Committee and sent for review before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Written by State Sen. Kevin de Leon, SB 606 — which has already cleared the upper chamber — would increase monetary and jail penalties for harassing a child under 16 and expand the definition of any activity that “seriously alarms, annoys, torments or terrorizes” a young person to include photographing or recording a child without the permission of a parent or legal guardian. The bill, which prohibits paparazzi from “following the child’s activities or lying in wait,” also would allow the parents or guardians to seek restraining orders against particular photographers and to sue them civilly for inflicting distress on a child.
Last April, Berry — who testified for the bill when it first was introduced in the state Senate — was involved in a widely covered confrontation with photographers at LAX. According to reports at the time, she cursed photographers who surrounded her as she left the terminal with her then-fiance and young daughter. “Jesus, what … is wrong with you people … that’s a child here,” Berry shouted at the paparazzi.
The Motion Picture Association of America initially opposed the bill, but withdrew its opposition when its concerns about possible infringement of First Amendment rights were addressed through amendment. The California Newspaper Publishers’ Association continues to oppose the measure, as does the National Press Photographers Association.
In a statement of opposition, the photographers’ group said, “We believe the increased penalties and liabilities related to such actions improperly abridges First Amendment protected activity occurring in traditional public forums and other places where a person normally has no reasonable expectation of privacy. We are also extremely concerned that the bill as it pertains to photography and recording is overly broad and vague and infringes upon otherwise protected forms of speech and expression.”
If SB 606 passes the Assembly and is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, a variety of court challenges hinging on the First Amendment are expected.
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