This week, the French parliament will debate proposed legislation that is designed to stop what it calls the “manipulation of information” and what is colloquially referred to as “fake news.” What differentiates this bill from similar ones currently under consideration by other countries, however, is that it would change the rules for speech in the time leading up to elections.
On Monday, July 17, 2017, world-renowned antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam sued the parent company of a popular newspaper alleging that a story it published defamed him. The article, titled “Prominent Art Family Entangled in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Investigations,” discussed two potentially unrelated stories: (1) incidents of the Islamic State’s antiquities looting; and (2) a number of potentially separate investigations by European and American authorities “looking at,” but not charging, Aboutaam and his family business for “handling” or “trafficking” looted antiquities. While the newspaper has stood by the story, calling it “thoroughly reported, fair and wholly accurate,” Aboutaam maintains that he “has suffered personal humiliation (…) public contempt, ridicule, or disgrace, which has induced an evil opinion of him in the minds of many people.” In his complaint, one of the more intriguing claims levied by Aboutaam is that the layout of the article, along with the images accompanying it, constitutes defamation by implication because it led to the natural conclusion that Aboutaam had ties to ISIS looting. Beyond the merits of the specific claims on either side, the case highlights potential new complications in the field of defamation by implication.