For years, we have lamented the wholesale attack on free speech in France from ever-expanding hate speech ruling to stripping away anonymity on the Internet to censorship of expression to criminalizing historical claims (though the last move was later reversed). The erosion of such protection has never been so evident as with the ruling against blogger Caroline Doudet. A French judge has issued an emergency ruling forcing that one of the titles of a blog restaurant critique be changed to reduce its prominence on Google and for Doudet to pay damages. It is an absurd ruling and frightening in its implications for free speech. France appears to have dived headlong into speech regulation and censorship.
Ms Doudet was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blog post entitled “the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”.
According to court documents, the review appeared fourth in the results of a Google search for the restaurant.
One would have expected that even in France a judge would have tossed the case out and said that nothing protects a restaurant from bad reviews or opinions. Indeed, it is not clear if the judge is finding that Doudet’s personal opinion is somehow wrong. In a perfectly bizarre opinion, she ordered the removal of the phrase: “the place to avoid” to make it less prominent in Google searches.
Doudet objected that it creates a new crime to be highly ranked on search engines.
One would think that a judge sitting in Bordeaux, France would have more sensitivity for an effort to critics to identify slipping standards in French cuisine. Yet the judge seemed peeved that Ms Doudet’s fashion and literature blog “Cultur’elle” had around 3,000 followers and could hurt the restaurant by expressing her opinion.
Three things are made clear from this opinion:
First, as noted in other columns, France needs to have a debate over the loss of free speech values in the very cradle of the rights of man.
Second, this judge needs to be removed from the bench.
Third, no one should eat at Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region. The fact that the restaurant would take a critic to court for expressing her opinion confirms anything that you want to know about Il Giardino restaurant. So to state the obvious again:
“the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”