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June 29, 2017

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

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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