Welcome to dictatorship? What lies behind France's controversial 'fake news' law

Welcome to dictatorship? What lies behind France's controversial 'fake news' law
French parliament has passed a controversial law to tackle 'fake news'. Approved ahead of the European election and clearly targeting foreign media, it is feared it could jeopardize democracy and censor press.

The National Assembly finally adopted the law, advocated by President Emmanuel Macron, against "the manipulation of information" during the country's election campaigns on Tuesday. The legislation which had been rejected by the Senate earlier this year, 'crowns' the president's campaign to clamp down on what he calls 'destabilization' attempts, aka 'fake news'.

READ MORE: 'Ridiculous & absurd political censorship': Opposition critics slam Macron’s anti-fake news law

The bill allows a candidate or party to appeal to a judge to stop the dissemination of "false information" during the three month period preceding any ballot, be it a vote to choose the French president or the European Parliament election. The latter is taking place in May 2019. The legislation mainly targets media controlled by foreign states.

The primary goal of the law is to target those who sponsor the spread of fake news, Bruno Studer, a deputy of the Bas-Rhin department from Macron's ruling LREM party explains, adding that it will fight the spread of fake facts, not opinions. 

Yet for Communist MP Elsa Faucillon the bill could jeopardize freedom of information and press and as a result will not be the best way to combat the spread of fake news. The law is "useless" and what's more it can be dangerous since it "provokes self-censorship," she added.

The consequences of the law will be weak since the legislation is "relatively inapplicable," Yann-Maël Lahrer, founder of Okaydoc, a platform of researchers which deal with digital challenges told RT France, adding that it will be difficult to identify the authors of this fake news. Lahrer also fears that the law may trigger "strong attacks on democracy."

Russia Today, Sputnik are the targets

Though the lengthy text of the law doesn't name any particular foreign media which may be targeted, Macron's political nemesis Jean-Luc Mélenchon says everything is evident: "It's Russians that they've been talking about since the start". Russia Today and Sputnik, to be precise.

READ MORE; 'Propaganda never takes time off': Putin 'hunts tigers' during his holidays, French TV claims

Banishing these channels would only provoke a mirror response from Moscow, the leader of the French leftist party La France Insoumise warns. "If you do not want Russia Today in France, there will be no more France 24 … in Russia," he said, addressing the National Assembly panel.

Macron has been harboring a grudge against RT and Sputnik since the start of his presidential campaign, labeling them as "propaganda" feeds. Russian journalists have been repeatedly barred from covering working visits of the French president.

Melenchon praised the pluralism of the information, saying he was happy to find all points of view in the media. "I do not mind reading Le Figaro [newspaper] articles that take a right look at the world," he admitted. But he also reads L'Humanité daily which tells a story from a "communist" point of view.

RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan called the law a "banal, old-fashioned and boring fight against dissent."

The so-called anti-fake news law, like the entire fight against fake news which recently broke out in Europe and in America, actually didn't have and has nothing to do with fake news.

And with each new law, especially with the recent French law, it becomes more and more obvious, she added.

'Ministry of Truth'

Cracking down on what the authorities call “fake news” angered many people on Twitter, with some asking about the 'Ministry of Truth', a nod to George Orwell's dystopian novel '1984'.

Others noted that '1984' is still relevant in the 21st century. "Democracy? Unknown word in Macron's dictionary."

"Welcome to dictatorship," one more person noted

One user recalled the scandalous episode ahead of the 2017 French presidential vote when 'Liberation' newspaper called on its readers to cast their ballots for Emmanuel Macron on the cover of its pre-election day edition.

The paper has been denounced by critics who have labelled it"a propaganda machine."

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