We have discussed the plan of the new French government to impose a 75% tax on the top earners in the country, a move that in my view is better politics than economics. Now there is an alleged tort to go with the politics (Thank God). France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, announced that he was seeking Belgian nationality. The response from the leftist Liberation newspaper was a giant headline superimposed over Arnault’s face reading “Get lost, rich jerk”. Now Arnault is suing for for “public insult” – over the offending headline’s “vulgarity and brutality.”
Arnault is the head of the luxury conglomerate LVMH and denies that he is seeking Belgian citizenship to avoid the new tax by France’s Socialist government. The headline is a take off from a line by by ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who told a man who refused to shake his hand “Casse-toi, pov’ con” (“Get lost, you poor idiot”).
Notably, while the earlier blog;drew comparisons between the tax and the French Revolution, the newspaper drew the same analogy in its response to Arnault — saying he is like the “nobles and opulent bourgeois” who resisted and fled the 1789 French Revolution. It is a curious analogy given the disastrous orgy of blood following the Revolution.
Despite the unfortunate analogy and my general agreement that the 75% tax is unwise, I fail to see how this is actionable. In the United States, a “public insult” is protected speech and courts limit tort liability so not to allow civil lawsuits to “chill” free speech. In addition to this, Arnault is a public figure in the midst of a public controversy. This strikes me as something that should be protected as opinion.
To the extent that the newspaper states as fact that he is fleeing taxes (something he denies), there may be factual challenges. However, this also may be covered by opinion as to his motivations. Even other super wealthy French citizens and conservative leaders have denounced the move by Arnault.
While his spokesman have cited the “extreme vulgarity and the violence of the headline,” it seems pretty mild and non-violent on this side of the pond. Of course, the French laws are different on defamation and the United States tends to protect free speech to a greater degree than even its closest allies.
What do you think?
Source: France 24