Paris mayor vs. Fox News: Can a foreign city really sue a US news outlet?

The mayor of Paris announced Tuesday that she plans to sue Fox News for sullying the image of Paris with its 'no go zones' reporting. This may be the first time a municipality has attempted to sue a US television network.

Thibault Camus/AP
New York city mayor Bill de Blasio, left, and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, right, give a press conference, in Paris, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Terror attacks by French Islamic extremists should force the country to look inward at its "ethnic apartheid," the prime minister said Tuesday as four men faced preliminary charges on suspicion of links to one of the gunmen.

[Updated Jan. 22, 3 p.m.] The mayor of Paris announced Tuesday that the city plans to sue Fox News for inaccurate reports about Muslim “no-go zones,” where residents supposedly live under Sharia law and non-Muslims, including police, are not welcome.

“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,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Tuesday. "The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced."

The likelihood of such a suit actually holding up in court is murky, at best.

If the city of Paris does attempt to bring Fox News to court, it may be the first time an entire city has sued a US news organization.

“I’ve never heard of a municipality bringing a libel claim before. It strikes me that it would run afoul of the rule that the statement has to be about an identifiable person or group or corporation,” Jeffrey Pyle, a partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP in Boston, told the Washington Post.

While French privacy law tends to favor claimants, libel laws tend to be more defendant friendly, with extensive procedural formalities and a three-month statute of limitations, wrote lawyers from the Arizona law firm Kelly/Warner in a blog about defamation laws in France.

Even if Fox News is brought to court and loses the suit, the news outlet may not have to adhere to a penalty levied in France.

The SPEECH Act (Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act), signed into law by President Obama in 2010, disallows US courts from enforcing overseas judgments that are inconsistent with First Amendment rights. This means that it is unlikely Fox would be obligated to pay even the most meager sum.

For its part, Fox News has issued four on-air apologies for not questioning the guest who first introduced the idea of "no go zones," which were derided as absurd by French news organizations, and for the repeated reiteration of the claim made by several Fox News correspondents.

Michael Clemente, Fox News' executive vice president of news released the following statement Tuesday.

"We empathize with the citizens of France as they go through a healing process and return to everyday life. However, we find the mayor's comments regarding a lawsuit misplaced."

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