French mock UK tabloids and US far right’s ‘Paris no-go zones’ but it’s no laughing matter

Once again talk of Paris "no go zones" in the British tabloid newspapers and far-right (so-called) media sites in the US has prompted ridicule and concern in France. But it's no laughing matter.

French mock UK tabloids and US far right's 'Paris no-go zones' but it's no laughing matter
Photo: Screengrab Daily Express

After Fox News caused uproar in January 2015 with its much-mocked report on no-go zones in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, this time it’s Britain’s Daily Express and a notorious American anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller prompting laughter in France over their coverage of the recent riots in the Paris suburbs.

On February 16th Geller tweeted one of her articles to her 140,000 followers titled “No-go zones expand as violence spreads ACROSS FRANCE”, in which she compared the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940 to the burning of cars and bins and vandalism of buildings in the Paris suburbs.


Geller was talking about the outbreaks of violence in several suburbs around Paris following the alleged rape of a young man named Théo by a police officer.

Her article was based almost entirely on that of an article by right-wing British tabloid The Daily Express, originally titled “PARIS RIOTS MAPPED: 20 no-go zones located as violence spreads ACROSS FRANCE.

The article included maps of Paris and France with the marked “no-go zones”, which incredibly included the historic Marais quarter, a popular tourist hot spot as well as cities including Lille, Nantes and Rouen.

Perhaps realising they had over egged the pudding a little, the Daily Express, which backed Brexit (and now appears to be backing the anti-EU Marine Le Pen given she's the only French politician they seem to quote), ditched the word “no-go zones” and replaced it with “areas”. But not before it had been noticed.

The damage was done and both Geller’s repeat of the Daily Express article and the original were being widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.

When word got back to France it was left to the French Twittersphere to respond. And they did ever so well in setting the record straight with Geller, rather than the Daily Express.

While many simply replied to tell her she was wrong, others responded with humour.

Particularly when it came to the idea that the Marais was a “no-go zone”.

And Lille for that matter.

The news site Buzzfeed did a good job of rounding up some of funnier responses to Geller. Inundated with tweets blasting her article the writer then wrote to Buzzfeed and pinned all the blame on the Express.

“The incidents I reported on in Paris all came from published reports in recognized mainstream news outlets. Scapegoating me for passing on those reports is typical of an establishment media,” she told Buzzfeed.

It would be a funny old tale if it wasn't so serious.

Both Geller's alarmist and exaggerated article and that of the Daily Express were picked up by other alt-right/far-right news sites in the US like Infowars and Breitbart.

READ ALSO: Eight other 'fake news' stories about France

As French newspaper Le Monde pointed out: “Only the facts that fitted their narrative were retained, all the others, which were against it, were left out.”

There's no doubt the outbreaks of violence in the suburbs were serious, especially in Bobigny, with over 250 people arrested over several days.

And obviously when stones are being hurled at police and tear gas is being fired back, then you definitely would be wise avoiding the area for a while, but the use of the word “no-go zones” along with images of the violent flash protests was “dishonest”, as Le Monde says.

As are false claims that violent incidents in France are linked to the terror group Isis, as Geller maintained at the weekend when a man described as “mentally disturbed” by French police stabbed several people.

The problem is all these tweets and articles stick in the minds of eager readers, as our own Twitter feed is testament to. It's perhaps hardly surprising given these reports that the Paris region lost some 1.5 million tourists last year.

“The exaggerations are coarse and the generalizations leave the impression of a country at breaking point,” wrote the French version of Slate magazine, which like Le Monde lamented the coverage of the riots.

One of the problems is that reports of trouble flaring in the suburbs around the French capital are often described in many articles as being in “Paris”, whereas in reality they are far from the places where visitors would ever venture.

There were violent scenes in Paris on a couple of occasions, once at Barbes and last Saturday at Place de la Republique, with reports suggesting many of those involved in the trouble there were from well known anti-fascist and anarchist groups who have a long history of violent confrontations with police.

It was the same for the demonstration that turned ugly in western France's Rennes.

In other words, it wasn't “immigrant youths” from the suburbs or even “Muslim youths wreaking havoc in France” as Pamela Geller wrote in her letter to Buzzfeed.

But luckily as a Facebook post to our own readers shows, there are many lovers of France who are not put off by the scaremongering reports of “no-go zones” and Paris going up in flames.



Could France’s fake news law be used to silence critics?

France is the latest country attempting to fight the scourge of fake news with legislation -- but opponents say the law won't work and could even be used to silence critics.

Could France's fake news law be used to silence critics?

The draft law, designed to stop what the government calls “manipulation of information” in the run-up to elections, will be debated in parliament Thursday with a view to it being put into action during next year's European parliamentary polls.

The idea for the bill came straight from President Emmanuel Macron, who was himself targeted during his 2017 campaign by online rumours that he was gay 
and had a secret bank account in the Bahamas.

Under the law, French authorities would be able to immediately halt the publication of information deemed to be false ahead of elections.

Social networks would have to introduce measures allowing users to flag up false reports, pass their data on such articles to authorities, and make 
public their efforts against fake news.

And the law would authorise the state to take foreign broadcasters off the air if they were attempting to destabilise France — a measure seemingly aimed at Russian state-backed outlet RT in particular.


European governments have struggled to work out how to respond to the fake news phenomenon, not least after accusations of Kremlin meddling in France and the US presidential vote that brought Donald Trump to power.

The British government has set up a “fake news” unit, while Italy has an online service to report false articles and the European Union is working on a 
“code of practice” that would provide guidelines for social media companies.

France wants to go further — though not as far as neighbouring Germany, where social networks face fines of up to 50 million euros ($58 million) under a controversial law which critics say is overly draconian. 

Some opponents fear French authorities could use powers in the new law to block embarrassing or compromising reports.

“It's a step towards censorship,” said Vincent Lanier, head of France's national journalists' union, the SNJ. He labelled the bill “inefficient and potentially dangerous”. 

The government insists measures will be built into the law to protect freedom of speech, with only reports that are “manifestly false” and that have 
gone viral — notably with the help of bots — taken down.

“Reducing freedom of expression is not the idea at all. On the contrary, it's to protect it,” said Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen.

Leaving fake news to spread would be a “direct attack” on journalism, she argued.

But for Jerome Fenoglio, editorial director of Le Monde newspaper, the legislation carries too big a risk of suppressing information in the public 

“Elections should be a time of great freedom — these are periods when important information emerges,” he said, noting as an example the fake jobs 
scandal that torpedoed the campaign of presidential frontrunner Francois Fillon last year.

“We should be worried about an authoritarian regime winning power in France in the future and the methods it might use,” he said.

Arbiters of truth

Others worry the law could backfire by giving extra credibility to reports labelled “fake” by the authorities amongst those convinced the government is 
out to hide the truth. 

Fabrice Epelboin, who teaches media studies at Sciences Po university in Paris, predicts “catastrophic consequences” of the legislation which he says “is already seen as a law of censorship”.

“It will only reinforce a sense of defiance towards the press and politicians who are already very discredited,” he warned.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose followers stand accused of spreading fake news, is among those who have spoken against the bill, asking: “Is France still a democracy if it muzzles its citizens?”

The EU, for its part, has said it does not want to create an Orwellian “ministry of truth” and will not legislate on fake news.

In France, there are also questions about how the law will work in practice. 

Judges will have just 48 hours to rule on an urgent request to take down a report.

Legal expert Vincent Couronne says the law is “not only imperfect and unnecessary, but also dangerous for the peace and diversity of public debate”.

It will turn judges into “arbiters of true and false”, said Patrick Eveno, a media history professor at the Sorbonne university.

As for potentially kicking out foreign media, Fenoglio is deeply uncomfortable with the idea, not least given that Le Monde is blocked in China.

“I cannot defend measures under which it's considered normal to block all kinds of information because it's considered close to a foreign government,” he said.