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9 Jan, 2024 13:23

EU pressuring big tech to prioritize pro-Western journalism – FT

Some Belarusian journalists in exile have complained their stories are “failing to reach target audiences,” the outlet reports
EU pressuring big tech to prioritize pro-Western journalism – FT

EU policymakers are urging Google and other tech giants to promote anti-government Belarusian media outlets at the expense of those allowed to operate freely in the country, the Financial Times reported on Monday. Minsk has banned scores of pro-opposition outlets in recent years, accusing them of inciting violent protests.

Unnamed Belarusian journalists who have fled the country complained to the European Commission that their content, critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, “is failing to reach target audiences.”

They blamed the algorithms used by tech companies which take into account local laws and legislation. As a result, outlets that are not banned in Belarus are ranked higher in searches than exiled, banned outlets, according to the article.

Vera Jourova, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, appeared sympathetic, telling FT that “fighting disinformation and promoting media freedom are two sides of the same coin – and we want Big Tech to do both.” She also insisted that Western companies should ensure the visibility of “trustworthy information.”

According to the outlet’s sources, Jourova raised concerns about Belarus with Google representatives last month. When asked to comment on the matter, the tech company admitted that searches could “always be better,” but stressed that it seeks to enforce its policies in a non-biased manner.

Officials in Brussels also admitted, according to the FT, that they have no authority to crack down on tech companies for not helping exiled Belarusian dissidents.

Jourova was among the senior EU officials who backed the so-called Free Media Hub EAST project, which in July announced plans to allocate more than €2.2 million ($2.4 million) to “independent” Russian and Belarusian media operating from the EU. The project itself is led by the Prague Civil Society Centre, financed by the EU and the US.

Belarus blocked dozens of domestic media outlets during the 2020–2021 protests, when the country’s opposition disputed the results of the presidential election, which Lukashenko won by an overwhelming margin. Belarusian officials maintain that the rallies were inspired by Western countries in a bid to topple the government.

Minsk has also claimed that numerous outlets attempted to foment and even coordinate the protests. Since then, it has passed several bills toughening media regulations, including one allowing bans on foreign outlets.

Moscow has also accused Western powers of attempting to destabilize Russia from within, including by disseminating “fake news” about its military’s actions against Ukraine.