At What Point Do Paparazzi Just Become Straight-Up Stalkers?

Katy Perry has some serious problems with Aussie press.

Another day, another embarrassing moment for Australia on the world stage. Yesterday, Katy Perry tweeted some disturbingly passionate criticism of our local press out to her 60.3 million followers. After being “stalked by many grown men as [she] tried to take a quiet walk to the beach” she called our paparazzi “perverted” and “disgusting”. This experienced pop star who has been in the public spotlight (of the over-commercialised, over-sexualised USA, no less) for the majority of a decade showed no hesitation in condemning our press saying they had “no respect, no integrity, no character. NO HUMANITY.”

This is probably something we should pay attention to.

Of course, paparazzi are a fixture of the entertainment industry in all countries. There’s a well-established cult of pushy men wielding cameras like weapons, gossip rags paying top dollar for unguarded moments, and TMZ-style shows collectively ruining your faith in humanity. Though celebrities undoubtedly knew about this before entering the industry, it’s fair to say it’s pretty messed up. If these three guys were following any other female beachgoer and yelling at her to take off her clothes, they would definitely have spent their afternoon at the police station.

But where do we draw the line between being a committed ‘photojournalist’ and being a straight-up stalker? In Australia, it’s basically legal to take a photo of any person in any public space. There a few predictable caveats: you can’t take photos while trespassing on someone’s private property, you can’t upskirt people, and you definitely can’t take photos of naked kids. But other than that, you’re golden.

Our media organisations thankfully stay well within the bounds of these laws, but it’s another set they may be a little more iffy on. Stalking. In NSW legislation — Katy was at a beach in Sydney when the incident took place — stalking is defined as “the following of a person about or the watching or frequenting of the vicinity of, or an approach to, a person’s place of residence, business or work or any place that a person frequents for the purposes of any social or leisure activity.”

That Perry alleged these men stalked her is no small thing. This offence comes with a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

In California there are further laws in place. There are buffer zones around schools and medical facilities, laws against following cars too closely, and laws — championed by Halle Berry — against harassing minors. In 2012, Justin Beiber even got one paparazzi arrested for following him at dangerously high speeds.

But to get charged with full-on stalking is a little trickier. In Australia at least, there has to be some kind of “intent to cause physical or mental harm”. And though having strangers follow you every second of the day, laughing at you, and letting off disorienting flashes in your face may well cause some mental harm or emotional distress, it’s hard to make it stick.

While “the prosecution is not required to prove that the person alleged to have been stalked or intimidated actually feared physical or mental harm,” the intent still has to be present. And, as most paparazzi’s intent is more about scoring the best pic rather than actually harming the celebrity, the most they’ll usually get is a slap on the wrist.

But that’s not all — celebrities are often looked down upon when they speak out about these practices. When Katy’s news broke yesterday, most vocal reactions were negative. Reply tweets to the SMH report included “What a fucking sook, im sure you don’t mind the money you earn from us” and “You’re an FN Celebrity!! What else are you to expect!?!”. Comments on other articles included “Oh boohoo. Have a cry Katy. Wait until no one wants to take ur picture, then see how u feel” and “Sounds like a spoilt pop princess treating her tour like a holiday”.

Sure, she may be pop royalty enjoying summer on the other side of the world. Yes, she’s used to getting her photo taken. But that should be even more damning. When a strong and experienced pro like Katy Perry — or ANY woman for that matter — complains about serious harassment, don’t we have a duty to listen?

A photo posted by KATY PERRY (@katyperry) on