By way of brief intro, Fox News, in its traditionally comical yet terrifying reportage of world events, suggested that certain areas of Paris, and the city of Birmingham, were ‘no-go zones’ for non-muslims. The notion of Birmingham being a no-go zone wryly tickled the twittersphere, and a meme quickly developed, poking fun at our Foxy friends.
However, our confrères in Paris were not so amused. The recent news that the Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is considering court action against Fox News – to defend the ‘image’ and ‘honneur’ of Paris - has left us wondering whether there would be any legal grounds for such a claim, or whether this is a show of French bravado, with little foundation in fact.
The first hurdle of the Defamation Act 2013, section 1, could prove a stumbling block: the requirement for serious harm. Our friends in Birmingham or Paris would have to evidence that the commentary from Fox had caused actual harm to their reputation, rather than merely wry amusement from the world at large. That is not the end of it: it is likely that Paris/Birmingham would be seen as suing in its capacity as a potential tourist destination, in which case section 1(2) would come into play, where in the case of a body trading for profit, the requirement for serious harm extends to an obligation to evidence actual serious financial loss.
Un petit problème pour Madame Hidalgo. Or rather three of them:
1. Did Fox’s comments lead to a decline in visitors to Paris/Birmingham (thus leading to serious financial loss)? This would be evidenced on the facts, but let us assume, at least in the instance of Paris, that this can be proven (Birmingham may have a tougher time of it).
2. If so, then to what extent is that decline in visitors to be attributed to the comments of an ill-formed, bigoted and slightly absurd news commentator, that there are certain ‘no-go zones’ (which the average tourist would never see anyway – there are doubtless similar ‘no-go’ zones for tourists in the suburbs of many major cities around the world). Or rather should such decline be attributed to the rise and the threat of life-threatening terrorist activity, the increase in the threat level in Paris?
3. Furthermore, relating to a point we have previously addressed, Fox have now issued a wide-ranging apology “to the people of France and England”. The case of Cooke v MGN established that the question of whether serious harm has been caused is to be assessed at the moment of issue of proceedings (not the moment of publication): the unequivocal apology issued by Fox would likely be seen by the court as nullifying the harm caused – a Claim is likely to fail, and Madame Hidalgo would be proceeding at risks as to costs.
Birmingham City Council have accepted the apology, have confirmed that they are not considering litigation, and have branded Fox’s comments ‘a bit bonkers’.
We will continue to update on the status of any action brought by the Mairie de Paris. Bof.