LONDON/NEW YORK — Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan were pursued by photographers in New York on Tuesday in what the prince’s spokesperson described as a “near catastrophic car chase,” highlighting the often tense relationship between celebrities and photographers.
Police in New York, however, described the encounter as relatively brief and said there had been no injuries, collisions or arrests.
While the details remain murky, the incident made international headlines and immediately evoked memories of how Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued by so-called paparazzi photographers, who typically specialize in taking pictures of celebrities.
Harry, the younger son of King Charles, and Meghan cited media intrusion as one of the reasons for stepping back from royal duties and moving to California in 2020.
They filed a U.S. lawsuit in July 2020, alleging that unnamed paparazzi used drones and helicopters to take “illegal” photos of their son, Archie, at their private residence in California when he was 14-months-old. They reached a settlement with celebrity photo agency X17 in October 2020.
Rules on how the “paps” can operate vary from country to country and from state to state in the U.S.
Below is a summary of the different restrictions.
Photographers may take pictures in all public places, including photos of people, as long as they do not harass members of the public. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 allows for prosecution if a photographer threatens, stalks, intimidates or causes distress.
Shortly after Diana’s death, a voluntary body for British publishers — now called the Independent Press Standards Organization — agreed that journalists should not engage in intimidation, harassment, or persistent pursuit and should desist if asked to do so by their target.
There has also been an unwritten understanding between Buckingham Palace and the press not to publish unsolicited pictures of royal children since Diana’s death.
Photographers may take pictures in all public places. New York does not have specific laws addressing paparazzi, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution explicitly protects the free press from government intrusion.
California, where paparazzi are a constant presence thanks to Hollywood, has enacted several laws intended to protect celebrities from harm since Diana’s death.
A 2013 law made it a crime to attempt to photograph a child in a harassing manner if it is done so because the child’s parent is famous. Another law created a misdemeanour for anyone who engages in reckless driving specifically in pursuit of images.
The state has also passed a civil statute barring the use of unmanned drones to take photos of people on private property, which led Harry and Meghan to file their 2020 lawsuit.
News photographers typically operate under ethical standards apart from legal considerations. The New York Press Photographers Association issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the reported behavior as a violation of the basic principle that news photographers should act as “documentarians and observers.”
Bruce Cotler, the group’s president, noted in an interview that there were multiple and conflicting accounts about the incident. But, he said, photographers are expected to behave in a manner that is not dangerous to others.
“The major rule in journalism is: cover the news, don’t be the news,” he said.
— Reporting by William Schomberg in London and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy