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We have found it alarming for some time that anti-nuclear activists have been, and are being, sued for defamation by 89% French State owned Nuclear giant AREVA. Instead of properly addressing legitimate concerns raised by anti-nuclear activist, Stephan Lhomme, that AREVA was giving money to Niger, to buy the president an airplane, AREVA filed suit for defamation. He was actually found guilty! He spoke of “moral corruption”, even if no law was broken. Charges were dropped on appeal, probably because of the multiple lines of evidence, which he produced.

Shouldn’t one be able to express opinion? Can’t a Frenchman have an opinion about how his tax-money is spent? Or raise a question? Especially a very poor Frenchman, who is less menacing than a Golden Retriever pup? Nope, no room for opinion and debate in nuclear France, by all appearances.
Golden Retriever Puppy public domain via wikipedia
There is room for satirical insults, but no room for straight questions regarding possible corruption or morality, it seems. Is purchasing an airplane worth about 30 million euros for, or by, the president of the poorest country on earth (UN human development index) moral? Especially when there were ongoing negotiations regarding the price of the uranium? When said president used to work for Areva? Niger is, of course, where France sources so much of the uranium for its nuclear reactors. Are the revolts in Niger really about Charlie Hebdo? Or, are they about other ongoing abuses? In early January Areva filed suit against another tiny anti-nuclear organization. Clearly there is no free speech of the kind which matters in France. If there ever was, it was a small blip in history. The purpose of free speech is above all to hold governments to account. That is the real reason for free speech. It’s not to get your jollies insulting people for the fun of it. Charlie Hebdo had some political aspects, but is insulting satire the only free speech allowed in France?

Now, if all of that isn’t bad enough, here comes a Parisian Mayor who is Spanish, born in Spain, and bears a Spanish aristocratic name, and is listed as a “Peer”, who has decided that she should sue Fox News because a journalist named Nolan Peterson expressed what his feelings were during the 2005 riots in France, and compared them to his feelings in a war zone. He spoke of Paris and its “environs”, not just of Paris proper. Another journalist less carefully raised concerns about lack of Muslim integration in Europe. Many non-Muslims, and also secular Muslims, have been alarmed at seeing sections of the Paris region, and elsewhere, with women dressed as though they were in Saudi Arabia. If you watch the movie the “Battle of Algiers”, you will see that they have a point, as well as that veiling can be a political statement. Some secular Muslim women fear that Sharia law could be imposed on them within Europe. Most of Fox’s viewers don’t have the money to travel and, if they did, Paris would be at the bottom of the list. Now, it should be on the bottom of everyone’s list. Due to Baron Haussmann they are mostly missing a city, whose buildings vary in color from cafe au lait to dirty dish rag at the end of the week, as someone once said. “Zone” is the street term for poor ghetto. So, the French can ZIP, ZUP, and now ZUS all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that France hasn’t addressed its social problems and that Zone has a pejorative meaning in French. Maybe they need to try ZUP again – Priority Urban Zone. What happened to all of their pink, blue and white planning books? Do they need a new color, which reflects urgency? [More clarification at bottom of post]

The big question is why the Mayor of Paris apparently doesn’t want a debate? Why is she trying to silence discussion? Was she offended by Peterson’s concerns that his French Muslim friends found Paris proper inaccessible to them? That many feel locked out of French society? There is a big elephant in the room here. And that is why the poor have been shunted off and on, and mostly on, to the outskirts of Paris proper for around 150 years, starting with Haussmann, and ongoing today? And why is there a Spanish Catholic Mayor of Paris, who wasn’t even born in France, whereas there is no Algerian Muslim Mayor, even though Algeria became part of France ca. 1832?

Hidalgo’s high-handed manner only serves to remind the world of the Spanish Inquisition and Franco’s Spain.
Spanish Inquisition insignia from Wikipedia, donated to public domain
She alleges that her relatives were Republicans in the Civil War. Is this proven? And, let us not forget, that dictatorial Stalinists were among those who fought in the Civil War. It wasn’t just democrats vs. fascists, there were Stalinists in the mix fighting the fascists too. The Spanish Inquisition ran from 1 November 1478 to 15 July 1834: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition
Franco was in office from 1 April 1939 – 20 November 1975 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Franco http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War This peerage link shows up on Spanish wiki: http://www.thepeerage.com/p55333.htm#i553322
At least the half-(Spanish) Catalan PM is willing to raise the topic: “French Premier Says ‘Apartheid’ Is Leaving Minorities on the Fringe” By MAÏA de la BAUME JAN. 20, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/world/europe/paris-attacks-suspects.html

The irony, of course, is that if Hidalgo sues FOX, every little bit of Paris’ dirty laundry will come out during the suit and not just dirty dish rags. She just shot herself and Paris in the foot.

Some may recall, as well, the French President Hollande, threatening to sue journalists who reported that he was going around Paris at night on a tiny moped to cheat on his girlfriend! They argued that it could be dangerous for the head of state to be wandering about on a moped at night.

Due to our concerns, we found a shocking study from last July. From it we learn that it is not only France and Spain which don’t want public officials to be criticized! The whole point of free speech is to criticize public policy and officials for the public good – both national and international. If you consider history, most of Europe probably never had free speech to lose.

The study is: “Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview)” International Press Institute (IPI), July 2014.

In it they state generically about Europe: “we are greatly concerned by laws that continue to criminalise value judgments and opinions.” (p.20)

The preliminary findings of our research strongly indicate that international standards on freedom of expression are not being fully met in the defamation law and practice of EU countries. The room for improvement is great.” (p.10)

in France, the criminal fine for defamation is almost four times greater when the offended party is a public official. See the charts in the Annex of this report for more information“. (p.36)

Under Italy’s 1948 Press Law, the subject of current reform efforts, journalists can face up to six years in prison for libel (under the country’s Mussolini-era penal code, the highest sentence is three years).” (p. 13)

Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview), IPI, July 2014, CC-BY-4.0 , p. 8 (p.8)
their framing and application — do not produce a “chilling effect” that could foster self-censorship among journalists looking to avoid potential legal consequences. This concern is present even in cases in which illegitimate harm to reputation has unques-tionably occurred: here, overly harsh sanctions may cause perfectly well-meaning and honest speakers to hesitate, negatively impacting the public’s right to know.” (p. 9)
[…]
Europe’s defamation laws in global context

The preliminary findings of our research strongly indicate that international standards on freedom of expression are not being fully met in the defamation law and practice of EU countries.6 The room for improvement is great.

Unbalanced defamation law and practice — too much protection for reputation, too little regard for free expression and the need for a free press — does not just affect those directly involved: defamation proceedings have a cascading impact on the over-all media culture and the public’s right to know. Negative experiences in such proceedings may lead to a chilling effect among media colleagues at the institutional, local and national level, causing journalists or critical commentators to be overly cautious in publishing news in the public interest, if they continue to work at all. Reporters may be wary of covering certain topics, some of which — especially investigations into the actions of public officials — will be seen as off-limits altogether, perceived as not being worth the legal costs, long and distracting proceedings, the infamy of being sued or charged with a crime, expensive damages, criminal fines, the threat of imprisonment, and the possibility of losing one’s job and having one’s reputation tarnished.

But the ultimate losers in this situation are EU citizens who depend upon the free flow of information to make informed decisions about issues that matter in their daily lives, including the identities of the officials who make important policy decisions that impact society. Moreover, without this information, power risks becoming concentrated in the hands of political and business elites and serious abuses go unnoticed or unpunished. Good defamation policy is not just about making life easier for journalists: it is essential to the foundation of the democratic process. (p.10)
[…]
Our research has found that in the past five years alone, five EU member or candidate states — Ireland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and the United Kingdom — have done away with criminal defamation and insult, and several others, such as Finland, France, Latvia, Poland and Serbia, have taken important steps in the right direction (see visual on page 25 of this report). Bills that would improve the legal situation are now pending in Italy4 and Lithuania.5” (p.9)
Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview), IPI, July 2014, CC-BY-4.0 , p. 13 (p. 13)
Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview), IPI, July 2014, CC-BY-4.0 , p. 14 (p. 14)

Scales of justice firmly tipped toward power

A central principle of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law on defamation is that the limits of acceptable criticism are wider as regards public or political figures than as regards private individuals. This principle is based on the idea that, in a democracy, the actions of public officials must be open to public scrutiny. Our research suggests that this principle is not fully reflected in the laws of the majority of EU member states.

The laws of 14 member states contain special provisions protecting the honour or reputation of public officials or public figures. Of these 14, six — Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands — punish basic defamation and insult more harshly when directed at public officials.24

The remaining eight — Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovakia — have separate criminal offences protecting the honour or reputation of certain public officials;25 in most of these countries, similar offences related to private individuals are punished less harshly (this cannot be said of Poland and Slovakia).

The laws of 10 member states offer procedural advantages to public officials in defamation cases. Typically, this means that whereas private individuals must bring criminal cases to court on their own or must file a complaint in order to initiate a police investigation, public prosecutors can take action on their own initiative when the offended party is a public official. Thus while these procedural arrangements are problematic because of the potential for treating public officials preferentially, they also tend to violate the standard that public prosecutors should not be involved in the prosecution of alleged acts of criminal defamation. Altogether, 20 EU states provide one of the two types of protection for public officials noted above (Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Romania and the United Kingdom are those that do not). Our research so far has found troubling examples of high-ranking public officials or other prominent public officials targeting journalists in criminal or civil defamation proceedings in Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedo-nia, Malta, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.26 27

In 12 EU member states, 28 insulting the head of state is specifically established as a separate criminal offence (in Lithuania it is an administrative offence). This category includes lèse-majesté laws: 29 among the EU’s seven monarchies, only two (Luxembourg and the UK) have abolished insult to the monarch as a separate criminal offence. In Sweden, offending the monarch may lead to six years in prison, in the Netherlands five; in Denmark, punishments for insult and defamation are doubled when the monarch is the offended party. Our research has highlighted a few cases in which laws protecting the head of state have been applied in recent years, including multiple convictions in Poland and Spain.30 In the Netherlands, an investigation by the newspaper NRC Handels-blad found that between 2000 and 2012 there were 19 criminal proceedings for lèse-majesté in the Netherlands.31 The paper reported that nearly half of these led to a criminal conviction, including five fines and one suspended prison sentence.” (p. 15)
Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview), IPI, July 2014, CC-BY-4.0 , p. 17
Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview), IPI, July 2014, CC-BY-4.0 , p. 19
[…]
How-ever, we are greatly concerned by laws that continue to criminalise value judgments and opinions. Our research has found that such criminalisation takes several, sometimes overlapping, forms:

“Insult” provisions.41 We have found that 20 of the 33 countries surveyed maintain some form of separate “insult” law in addition to libel laws: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxem-bourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Iceland and Serbia. In 15 of these countries, imprisonment is a possible punishment (not in Bulgaria, Croatia, France, and Serbia; Malta provides for temporary detention). Broadly worded defamation laws that do not restrict themselves to allegations of fact. Finland, for example, defines defamation as spreading false information or false insinuations – or subjecting a person to contempt or disparaging a person in any other manner. In Turkey, the primary defamatory offence (hakaret) serves as a catch-all for any statement undermining the honour and dignity of a person, regardless of whether it is an insult or a factual allegation. A failure in both statute and practice to properly distinguish between fact and value; this is critical because defendants cannot be expected to prove the truth of vague or imprecise statements that, under the circumstances, must be understood as value judgments.42

In the EU, truth is not a get-out-of-jail-free card

Individuals cannot legitimately protect a reputation that they do not have or do not deserve. But in the EU an absolute “exceptio veritatis”43 is itself an exception. In most states surveyed, truth is generally a defence for defamatory assertions of fact — either because a specific provision states this or because it can be implied from the definition of the offence44 (one notable exception is Italy, where the Criminal Code states that truth is not a defence, subject to some exceptions). However, our research so far indicates that the problem lies in the details:

First, many EU states set exceptions for when truth may be admitted as a defence, the most common of which being when a factual assertion relates to a person’s private life (this is the case in, for example, France). Particularly in the context of covering public officials, such provisions run the risk that journalists will not be able to report on actions that, although falling partly into the private sphere, are important for judging an elected official’s character with regard to his or her ability to carry out public functions. Similar restrictions abound. In Croatia, truth is not a defence if the defendant acted with intent to harm the offended party’s reputation. In Poland, defendants must prove, apart from truth, that they were acting in the public interest. Second, criminal laws in some countries, including Denmark, Germany, and Poland, explicitly allow for true statements that cannot be punished as defamation to be punished as insult depending on the form and circumstances in which the statements were made (in Germany, this is known as “formal insult”). Finally, our research so far notes that, in an effort to balance rights to free expression and reputation, courts in some countries have given too much weight to the circumstances in which true statements are made at the expense of the importance of truth as a criterion. In Finland, for example, successive courts convicted two editors of criminal defamation on the basis of true facts that, under the circum-stances in which they were published, were found to have amounted to a false” (p.20)

Legal guarantees for journalists acting according to professional standards remain work in progress

Defendants in defamation cases should be able to rely upon a defence of reasonable publication – that is, if they have acted in good faith in publishing information in the public interest, even if that information later turns out to be false. We looked for this type of defence in our research and can so far make the following general comments:

Specific clauses in law protecting journalists from liability as long as they have observed basic journalistic duty (such as duly checking facts) are not common; some exceptions include Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Macedonia and Serbia. Another group of states, including the Netherlands and Portugal, provide defences of “good faith” in criminal law. Finally, some states provide in law a general clause exempting defendants from liability if the decision to publish could be seen to advance a “legitimate interest”.

In addition to these legal guarantees, we also found that the highest courts of several countries, such as those of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Italy, have clearly recognised a right of reasonable publication for journalists and in some cases set specific standards on which courts should consider such cases. German constitutional jurisprudence, for example, has established clear rules for journalistic reporting on “suspected facts” .49

We also noted that this defence continues to evolve. In England and Wales, where courts previously recognised the so-called “Reynolds defence”,50 the Defamation Act 2013 now provides a “public interest” defence, which goes farther than a reasonable publication defence in that the law does not require proof of due diligence or the absence of malice. In France, courts have traditionally stipulated that they will not accept good faith defences if the publication was driven by animosity, although recent decisions by the Court of Cassation have held that public interest outweighs malice.51” (p. 21)
Emphasis-Highlights our own. Excerpted from: “Out of Balance: Defamation Law in the EU and its Effect on Press Freedom (Provisional Overview) International Press Institute (IPI) Executive Director: Alison Bethel McKenzie Vienna, Austria, July 2014, Lead author: Scott Griffen, IPI Editors: Barbara Trionfi, Steven M. Ellis and Scott Griffen, IPI Layout and graphics: Alison Graham“, CC-BY-4.0 International License. Read the entire document here: http://www.freemedia.at/fileadmin/uploads/pics/Out_of_Balance_OnDefamation_IPIJuly2014.pdf

Additional Notes-Clarification regarding Mayor Hidalgo-FOX, etc: Our comments re FOX are based on the excerpts of videos from FOX that we were able to find. First, since FOX is not allowed in France and the type of people who watch it would have no interest in Paris, what they said would seem to matter little. Plus, they should have the right to say it. Critics seemed to have compressed Peterson-Emerson together, which seems unfair.

But, what really enrages us is that people criticize Nolan Peterson, when he seems to have had compassion on the poor of the Paris region and he was speaking of his experiences and how he felt when he lived there. He speaks of how they felt. He said that their frustration doesn’t translate into violence but could make them more susceptible to recruitment by extremists. Rioting is actually violent, though, so he was actually going easy on everyone. So, maybe Mayor Hidalgo doesn’t understand English? Her sister works in California and the Peerage pedigree linked to at the Spanish wiki shows English origins, possibly English aristocracy. So, she probably does understand English, leading us to think that she didn’t want to understand. If she understood she would have to explain why Spanish Catholics seem to be more successful in France than Algerian Muslims. If people can’t express their lived experiences and feelings, it’s getting pretty bad. If they can’t feel empathy for a downtrodden people, it is sad times. Peterson was speaking of Paris proper and its “environs”. He says so. Hidalgo seems to be mayor of Paris proper. So, what’s her problem? And, if Paris has fewer poor people it’s not for reasons she should be proud of, unless she has made good on promises of subsidized housing. If she did, why not say so? Gentrification has resulted in another round of removal of the poor to elsewhere, which is not solving the problem. How one feels about going into an area can vary, and is based on experience, and fears may be legitimate or not. A black person may feel threatened in an all white crowd. A white person, especially a blond one, may feel in danger in an area which appears predominantly Muslim or black. Blond journalists really should dye their hair to help blend in, but they don’t. A black American could feel out of place or threatened in a large, crowded, African metropolis. I’ve seen an Arab merchant harass a black African too in the 18th Arrondissment-Montmartre area of Paris proper. An unveiled woman who knows that Islamist extremists think that unveiled women are the same as prostitutes should be nervous around a bunch of Islamic extremist men. It would be a no-go zone for her or she would veil for safety. It’s unfair to call it racism, though it can also be that. Around the time of the riots, French media reported that police were fearful of going into some areas or refusing to go. This is always the case in many places where there is high crime. Police also don’t like to go to domestic disputes. If we recall correctly, there were concerns about certain housing projects being “ruled” by unofficial mosques within them. It’s easy to see how a housing project “ruled” by gangs of Islamists could be frightening for unveiled, secular, women. The problem has its roots in France’s refusal to give Muslim, native, Algerians equal rights. They made full citizens of Italians, Spaniards, etc. in Algeria, but not of the Natives. Having a Spanish Mayor, a Spanish PM and the main anchor of the state TV station being Spanish harkens back to this unfairness. As in the US, new immigrants are treated better, it seems, than those who have been there longer. Sometime after the Revolution, France became officially Catholic again. While it’s no longer the case, it was during part of the colonial period. And, so this is very political. The scene to which we are alluding in “The Battle of Algiers”, is where men dress in full black veils and hide machine guns underneath. Also, at one point, probably to hide them, everyone takes to veiling. The French government continues to tamper in Africa today! The original ZUP was zones for priority urbanization, meaning more to develop new housing. New housing is needed for the poor today in the Paris region. However, priority attention to the urban areas is also needed and could be called ZUP. The origin of “Zone” is supposed to be shanty towns which sprung up in formerly militarized zones surrounding Paris proper. However, Haussmann’s design of Paris was to make it more accessible to the military and harder for people to put up barricades. There may have been sanitary considerations too. In Les Halles, housing was destroyed not just for hygiene but to be replaced by an arts complex and shopping centre.

We forgot to say that Hidalgo’s complaint is supposedly over “no-go zones”. Peterson said Paris and “environs”. It’s not clear what the “no-go zones” were exactly, or who referred to them. What is certain is that most “no-go zones”, however defined, would be outside of Paris proper and would probably be parts of HLM public housing. There are many high rise buildings even within one housing project. Did FOX spin and exaggerate the topic? It appears so. However, there are elements of truth. And, they might have been used to promote discussion, especially since FOX apologized. Hidalgo’s reaction appears very strange. The upside is that a lawsuit will force discussion of the problem again in detail. But, discussion isn’t a solution to the problem. As for Birmingham, we can only wonder if PM Cameron walks around all districts on a regular basis, or even the Mayor. We wonder why everyone supposes that Bobby Jindal is getting his info from FOX news, as opposed to friends from India who live or lived in the UK? Jindal’s roots are in India. Still, we must praise the more normal reaction of Cameron and of Birmingham and note apparent progress which has been made by the UK in free speech.

When Nolan Peterson said on Fox News that police were afraid, he was referring this time period:
10 Officers Shot as Riots Worsen in French Cities By CRAIG S. SMITH, Published: November 7, 2005
PARIS, Monday, Nov. 7 – Rioters fired shotguns at the police in a working-class suburb of Paris on Sunday, wounding 10 officers as the country’s fast-spreading urban unrest escalated dangerously. Just hours earlier, President Jacques Chirac called an emergency meeting of top security officials and promised increased police pressure to confront the violence.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/07/international/europe/07france.html

Second clarification: A well-known right wing academic, with a Ph.D. from Harvard, named Daniel Pipes appears to be perpetuating ZUS as being no-go zones. [Correction, he WAS perpetuating this, see more below.] There may well be no-go zones within individual buildings within various ZUS, but this appears to be legislation dealing with a wide variety of needs, including renovation of aging public housing. Some ZUS are in Paris proper. Some not. Typically, the French do not make an understanding of ZUS any easier, as we were unable to find an summary of the legislation and its updates. It’s click here and click there with no real answers. If we had the types of staffs which news outlets do where 20 people work on the tiniest story we might have time to rummage through the web sites. FOX has apologized. If she were serious, Hidalgo should be asking Daniel Pipes and others to stop perpetuating apparent untruths and at least tell French speakers where to find the clear details re ZUS. [Pipes did correct his blunder.] My father argued that the politics was a circle and that extreme left and extreme right finally meet. This sort of thing leads credence to his argument. The idea was that Fascism and Stalinism were essentially the same. Nonetheless, there appears a difference between government owned by private corporations (e.g. US, Japan, probably Germany) and government as private corporations (France (e.g. Areva, EDF); Russia (e.g. Rosatom).

While we continue to be appalled by Hidalgo’s proposed lawsuit against FOX, we are shocked by the carelessness of Daniel Pipes. He is a Harvard Ph.D. who was the son of a Harvard Ph.D. He is famous so his words carry weight. [Update: His words carry weight in some circles. Over the last quarter century he has morphed from being known as a right wing academic, to just being right wing and of questionable intelligence.]

In 2006, when he seems to have first written about ZUS, he could have easily asked by e-mail what a ZUS is. How many Ph.D. dissertations did his mistake make it into before corrections? Pipes was already famous over 20 years ago. Anyone would have answered his e-mail request. Many French know English now. If he would have read about ZIPs and ZUPs he might have better understood, or if he had requested maps. ZIPs were and maybe are priority industrial or industrialization zones. They can also be intervention zones, so this might not have helped. We weren’t making this up. We were laughing at planning with no change. He might have written to people at a university sitting by a ZUS zone, there is one next to the ZUS below. While zone is a pejorative word meaning ghetto in street French, it also has a similar meaning to US zoning. The funny thing is that one of the ZUS has an important Justice court, as can be seen on the map and now on google. This makes clear that ZUS is not equal to “no-go zones”! He says he doesn’t feel endangered in the ZUS he visited. This, however, is meaningless. There are areas in the US which feel safe and which in fact are very dangerous, especially at night.
Here is the ZUS which includes the Court, Palais de Justice:
cropped from ZUS Palais Creteil http://sig.ville.gouv. fr/Atlas/ZUS/ http://sig.ville.gouv.fr/Atlas/ZUS/ http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_de_justice_de_Créteil

Which is worse? A Mayor who wishes to shut-down free speech? Or an idiotic Harvard Ph.D.? It must be the Mayor, for no one knows what idiotic person we are not learning about, when free speech is shut down. In fact, Daniel Pipes appears to be the legacy of the US government trying to destroy anyone who opposed their policies, especially during the Cold War. He and Mayor Hidalgo also show the downside of immigration. Since immigrants are people, they sometimes bring authoritarian cultures and stupidity with them.