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Paparazzi is sad reality of press freedom, but not true problem

Publication Date : 29-10-2013


Taiwan media reported yesterday that French director Luc Besson is mulling whether to cut short his filming of Lucy, an action thriller starring Scarlett Johansson, in Taipei because of intrusions by paparazzi, including their hounding of Besson, his cast and crew during the filming process and their shooting footage of Besson's team working on various scenes.

Frequent readers of this column, in which The China Post's editorial board has on numerous occasions criticised the low quality of local news reports, might expect another tirade on Taiwan's Chinese-language media. In this instance, however, closer scrutiny is needed to put Taiwanese paparazzi “intrusions” in context.

According to the media reports, Besson was frustrated in part because repeated “malicious provocations and clashing” by and with paparazzi caused “serious delays in the filming process”. Yet several days ago, the media reported that Scarlett Johansson, the leading star of the movie, was seen shopping on Yongkang Street and in Taipei's East District because filming was ahead of schedule.

Judging from the best source of evidences on paparazzi “intrusions” — i.e., tabloid reports — Taiwanese gossip-hunters have been quite unsuccessful in light of both their track records as well as “international standards”. They failed to follow Johansson in her shopping escapades or to report (or even to make up) any gossip-worthy news other than a few photos from the filming set. Of course, that was the result not of a newfound sense of journalistic integrity but of the Besson team's skillfulness in fending them off.

Of course, being hounded by a swarm of photographers can be annoying, but that should not be an uncommon problem faced by famed filmmakers such as Besson. At the same time of his filming of Lucy last week, Michael Bay was shooting for his upcoming blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction just across the strait in Hong Kong. Paparazzi were also following Bay and his crew, practically playing the parts of extra cameramen during the filming process. Entire explosion sequences were reported in detail across all major local newspapers, which also sent reporters to ambush Transformers stars during their nights out in the city. Paparazzi were probably the least of Bay's problems. His production team was twice extorted for “protection money” by Chinese gangsters. The director himself sustained minor facial injuries when attacked by a man wielding an air conditioning unit in a first attempt at extortion. Despite the attack and delays, Bay managed to shower niceties upon Hong Kong.

The “extreme anger” (in the words of the Central News Agency) which the French director expressed toward Taiwanese paparazzi might conceal an even more skillful ploy (tipped off by cooperators of his familiar with the Taiwanese psyche) to drive them off further. In a country as self-conscious and starved for international attention as Taiwan, a very public complaint against paparazzi would drive up public pressure on paparazzi and on the authorities. Indeed, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin has already called on the media to “control themselves” and has promised to increase police presence at the filming sets.

Paparazzi are the sorry reality of freedom and the reflection of the human urge to gossip. Paparazzi should not exist in an ideal world, but in the real world, nations with no or little paparazzi presence are not ideally suited for democracy or freedom of speech (mainland China among them).

No matter the reasons behind Besson's anger, entertainment reporters trying to take photos of a film set is not the true problem for the Taiwanese media. The true problem of Taiwanese media is not the existence of paparazzi but the insufficient number of comprehensive news reports. As long as the paparazzi are not breaking the law or putting people (including themselves) in harm's way, they have the freedom to pursue their stories, no matter how meaningless those stories might be.


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