Role of 'Stalkerazzi' in Diana's Death Leads to Calls for Stronger Laws

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Anger over the role paparazzi may have played in the Princess of Wales's death has caused Europe's governments to call for stronger laws to protect celebrities from harassment.

At press time, one of the seven paparazzi arrested at the scene had been put under suspicion for involuntary homicide and failing to come to the victims' aid.

The issue has come to the fore in Germany, where the country's largest tabloid, Bild, ran a front-page color photo of the crumpled Mercedes surrounded by rescue workers trying to save the princess's life.

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By nightfall, the issue had sold out in local newsstands. "That happens only about once a year," said a news agent in Bonn, looking at her empty shelves.

"With a tragedy like this, everyone feels involved," she continued somberly.

It is clear that the "queen of people's hearts" had subjects in Germany, too. By the evening of Aug. 31, memorial candles were flickering at the gates of the British Embassy. A thanksgiving service for the princess's life was set for Sept. 1 at the Schlosskirche in Bonn.

After the fatal car crash, the German Journalists Union as well as several tabloids in Europe and the United States urged newspapers not to buy photos of Diana and her companion, Dodi Al-Fayed. So far, both the US-based National Enquirer and Britain's News of the World say they have turned down images from the crash.

Bild, however, defended its decision to run the photo. "A perfectly normal photo that anyone could have run," was the response to a query to Bild about the provenance of the image. But in fact, the photo was not available from the wirephoto agencies.

The paper also insisted that the photo had not come from any of the paparazzi who had been following the princess's car. Bild spokeswoman Edda Fels told the German daily Sddeutsche Zeitung the photographer "was not one of those awful paparazzi that literally crawl over corpses." She defended the image as less gruesome than others that have been widely circulated. The paper, which has political clout as well as a circulation of about 4 million, was estimated to have increased its press run by 20 percent for its Sept. 1 issue. The newspaper defended the photo on its editorial page, on grounds of public interest."

Predictably, however, the Bild photo and the larger question of the role of the paparazzi in the accident have evoked debate, even within some of the tabloids, on whether German press laws need strengthening.

Germany has a strong newspaper market, and like Britain, divided into "quality newspapers" and "the boulevard press."

Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that Diana had become a victim of "an increasingly brutal and unscrupulous rivalry in a part of the media." He added, "This terrible accident and her death should at last give those responsible in the media cause for reflection."

Even within his own coalition government, however, there is disagreement over what action is needed. Peter Hintze, secretary-general of Mr. Kohl's Christian Democrats, has called for tighter press laws. But Edzard Schmidt-Jorzig, the federal justice minister, a Free Democrat, has countered that the legal situation in German "is OK." And Lutz Tillmanns, director of the German Press Council, has called for more journalistic responsibility rather than sharper laws.

"It's easy today to condemn the paparazzo. For what? The paparazzo does his job. It isn't his fault. It's the fault of the publishers: the newspapers and the editors. They want that kind of picture," says Italian celebrity photographer Rino Barillari, who photographed Diana on her last trip to Italy. "I do what the newspapers ask me to do, what the public wants."

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