Amid concern over the entertainment blogs and tabloids competing for inside information on Paris Hilton’s jailing and Mel Gibson’s tirade during a drunk-driving arrest, California legislators may clamp down on some forms of checkbook journalism, says the Los Angeles Times. A pending bill would make it a crime for law enforcement or court employees to profit by releasing confidential information gathered in criminal investigations or unauthorized photographs of people in custody. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who requested the legislation, said it was needed to preserve the integrity of the justice system in an age when a photo of a jailed Paris Hilton could fetch up to $500,000.
Opponents say the measure would whittle away press freedoms for the convenience of celebrities. “It’s the Paris Hilton and Mel Gibson Protection Act,” said Tom Newton, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “Fundamentally, it attempts to regulate news gathering and criminalize it.” No photographs have been published of Hilton in her cell; an ongoing investigation into the leaking of police documents in the Mel Gibson case has not found evidence that information was released to the entertainment blog TMZ.com for financial gain. The bill would apply to information provided to any unauthorized person, not only journalists. The bill would make it a misdemeanor to receive financial gain in exchange for confidential information obtained in a criminal investigation, or to solicit or offer financial compensation for such information. The ban would include “any unauthorized photograph or video taken inside any secure area of a law enforcement or court facility.”