The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Paris mayor threatens to sue Fox for insulting Paris and injuring its honor (with 'no-go zones')


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, center, listen to singer James Taylor perform at the Paris city hall on Friday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

CNN (Gregory Wallace and Brian Stelter) reports:

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told CNN Tuesday she intends to sue Fox News in the wake of the channel's coverage of supposed "no-go zones" for non-Muslims.

Hidalgo said the channel had "insulted" her city.

"When we're insulted, and when we've had an image, then I think we'll have to sue, I think we'll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed," Hidalgo told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced."

Amanpour's full interview will be televised on Tuesday afternoon.

(For more on the "no-go zone" claims, and Fox's admission that it was incorrect, see here.)

This sort of claim, even cast as a libel claim, certainly wouldn't be allowable in the United States. Government entities are categorically barred by the First Amendment from suing for libel; it's not just that they have to show that the speaker knew the statement was likely false (the standard for lawsuits by government officials)—they can't sue at all.

Now, the rules in France might well be different, and I don't know whether they are. And though such a French judgment couldn't be enforced in American courts, because it doesn't comport with First Amendment norms, Fox likely has assets in France that perhaps could be seized.

But if you want to further "prejudice" the "image" of Paris—and France more generally—in the United States, it's hard to imagine a better means than by suing it on these grounds. Instead of being seen as a city that was incorrectly accused of having "no-go zones," Paris will be seen as a city that tries to use its country's speech-restrictive laws (again, assuming French laws authorize such a claim) to go after foreign media. Big improvement!

And that's especially so given the obvious implications of such a lawsuit: Imagine a world in which governments whose "honor" and "image" has supposedly been "prejudiced" by allegedly false statements start trying to impose legal consequences on the speakers—with the decisions about truth or falsity made by the legal system of the very country that was supposedly dishonored (or the capital of which was supposedly dishonored). Can't say that this is a wise proposal on the Paris mayor's part.