'It could end up with the death of Britney Spears or someone else'

As paparazzo Nick Stern resigned in protest this week at the way journalists are covering Britney Spears’ very-public mental disintegration, his old employer, Splash News, has admitted the situation is getting ‘out of control”.

Convoys of up to 30 cars have been following the pop star in recent weeks, leading Briton Stern to tell Splash he was no longer willing to photograph Britney. The agency told Stern that in that case he no longer had a job and he now fears his stand has made him unemployable in LA.

Splash co-founder Gary Morgan, who is also British, told Press Gazette: ‘The situation is out of control. The problem is there are so many renegade shooters out there – not even photographers. People who used to be waiters and tipsters can now just pick up a digital camera and shoot.

‘There is no barrier to entry. If you get the picture and load it up on to the web 10 minutes before everyone else, that is the one people will use. It’s technology and the instant gratification of the internet which makes the first picture so important.”

Morgan said the problems of possible celebrity harassment were worsened by the fact that these ‘renegade’photographers use short lenses – so they have to get in as close as possible to get their shots. He pointed out that Splash – a British-owned agency – only uses trained photographers.

One solution to the problem he suggested is for the LAPD to begin issuing press accreditation to celebrity photographers – which it does not do at the moment, and which might enable them to control the situation.

Defending the amount of coverage Spears has had in recent weeks, Morgan said: ‘Britney is a bona-fide news story – AP, Reuters, The LA Times, Sky – everybody is outside her house.

‘It’s very difficult to stay away from what is probably one of the biggest stories in the world right now. People say we shouldn’t be hassling Britney Spears, but they didn’t mind people following Monica Lewinsky. I don’t know what the difference is between the two, except that this one is probably bigger.”

Explaining his decision to quit Splash, Stern – who formerly ran a UK agency called First News – said: ‘I think as journalists we should be impartial observers wherever possible, and the coverage of Britney Spears has gone way beyond that, it’s so intense.

‘There are high-speed car pursuits with 20 or 30 cars, and cars jumping red traffic lights. I couldn’t see a positive way out of it and it could end up with the death of Britney Spears or a member of the public.

‘It could kill her either directly via a car smash or indirectly by her taking her own life because of the focus. It’s not unusual for groups of photographers to block off other snappers and even drive them off the road. It’s become acceptable for photographers to drive down the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic.

‘I’m used to working with a fairly aggressive pack of photographers; I’ve been working in the UK for nearly 15 years. Many of the people in LA aren’t trained photographers or trained in journalism, and I think it’s reflected in the way they operate.”

Stern said that he has no grievance with Splash – describing it as ‘a very professional, well-run organisation”. He said: ‘They must make commercial decisions and I respect them for that.”

He added: ‘I might be unemployable in Los Angeles. Traditionally, the work I have done in the UK and all over the world has been investigation work which is slightly removed from this. I have had an amazing amount of support from people in the industry in LA, New York, London and all over the world saying ‘well done, good decision’. I think there are a lot of people in the industry who are stepping back and taking a look at what we are doing here.

‘Having worked in the UK for nearly 15 years, the PCC works well compared with the LA experience. It seems to be anarchy there and it’s unbelievable what lengths they will go to, to get pictures, particularly of Britney.”

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