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Defamation, insult and insult of a public official: sufficiently balanced and effective regulation of freedom of expression?

To discuss this important topic, our working group on freedom of expression met with Lorraine Gay, lawyer, founder of Cabinet Nouvelles  and Vice-President of the AAPDP (French Association of Press Lawyers), and Marie-José Lefebvre, lawyer and Legal Director of the TF1 group.

These discussions opened up a number of avenues for further consideration at future meetings:

  • The liberal framework introduced by the law on freedom of the press dated July 29th, 1881, which made freedom of expression the rule and some strictly defined offenses the exception, is perfectly transposable to online freedom of speech;
  • If something is illegal offline, it should be illegal online, though the applicability of the 1881 law is limited due to certain practices specific to social networks, such as when statements are made anonymously;
  • Several recent laws (for example, the Avia or SREN laws) have succumbed to the temptation to broaden the scope and number of contents that can be criminalized, in particular under the French Criminal Code, and therefore outside the scope of the 1881 law, but for the most part these attempts have been met with resistance by the Constitutional Council.


The discussions between the members of the working group highlighted three key questions about the legislative framework governing freedom of expression:

  • Is legislative action still needed as regards defamation, insult and insult of a public official?
  • In our democratic society, should political insults and defamation still be criminalized?
  • Should the legal framework established by the law of July 29th, 1881 be rethought to keep pace with digital developments?

Thanks to all of the thinkers in the working group. Let the discussions continue!


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