Sex, Drugs and Paparazzi

The lead prosecutor in the case, Henry John Woodcock, 39, has introduced a parade of celebrities, businessmen and showgirls for questioning in the case. Daily papers report abundantly, if not gleefully, on developments.

The case has led regulators to toughen privacy rules and threaten journalists with jail. Several weeks ago, Italy's privacy regulator ruled that magazines which feature the sexual and other exploits of the rich and famous must stop spreading gossip that is not strictly in the public interest.

Journalists face sentences of between three months and two years if they publish news that invades people's privacy, especially of a sexual nature, according to a Reuters report.

The scandal reached the highest level of Italian politics when a newspaper identified one victim of the blackmail scam as Silvio Sircana, the spokesman for Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government. It became public news after Sircana was caught on camera pulling over and chatting with a transsexual prostitute through the passenger side window.

Prodi said Sircana was "victim of an attack that is not worthy of a serious country."

Even Berlusconi, who has often complained of being the victim of abuse by the media, condemned the episode. "The way things are going, it's the victims of blackmail who are being put in the dock," he said, according to Reuters..

Sentiment against the paparazzi may have turned a decade ago after the death of Princess Diana, who was being chased by photographers on motorcycles when her car smashed into a tunnel in Paris.

In the United States, more celebrities have been suing (and punching out) paparazzi and taking steps to keep them away. California passed a law in 2005 to help protect the glitterati from the pack. The law came after Los Angeles authorities tried to crack down on aggressive photographers following a series of altercations involving actresses Reese Witherspoon, Lindsay Lohan and Scarlett Johansson, among others.

Lohan and Johansson were both involved in car accidents that they say were caused by aggressive photographers. A photographer trying to take a picture of Witherspoon's young daughter at an amusement park was charged with assaulting two park workers after they tried to intervene.

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