France’s Macron goes after online platforms, foreign ‘propaganda’ media

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron says online platforms and foreign “propaganda” media are the main drivers behind the spread of disinformation in the country – and he wants to contain them.

“Online platforms, influencers and also citizens, who, precisely through these new platforms, sometimes occupy a significant place in the public debate … must have a framework of responsibility that has yet to be established,” he said on Tuesday during the annual New Year’s address to the country’s press.

“The same must apply to foreign media that are allowed to broadcast on French soil,” added the President, clearly referring to Russian broadcasters such as Sputnik and RT.

Macron’s remarks build on this the conclusions of a report was served on him early Tuesday, an online policy to combat disinformation and conspiracy theories. At the end of September he commissioned a group of scholars, sociologists, professors, journalists and historians working on the subject in a committee entitled “The Enlightenment in the Digital Age” – a reference to the French 18th century philosophical movement.

The President said that thinking about combating fake news while protecting accurate information and reliable media should come at EU level and go beyond national election deadlines.

The speech comes at a crucial time for Macron, just months before and in the middle of the high-profile presidential election in April, where he is expected to be re-elected strained relations with the press.

In 2017, Macron’s campaign was attacked by Russian-backed hackers, and just a few weeks ago, his wife First Lady Brigitte Macron was the goal a conspiracy theory that falsely claims she is transgender.

As Macron’s La République En Marche party, authorities and politicians prepare for an election campaign expected to be fraught with disinformation, the French president hinted at a new approach to foreign media, endorsing a peer-review-like “self-regulatory system” that would see the Press Industry identifies “reliable media”.

“I say it here with great seriousness: We are a democracy today, sometimes naive… We let propaganda actors who are financed by foreign authoritarian regimes – who in no way react to a responsibility or journalistic ethical regime – inform and participate in debates as journalists “, he said.

In recent years, the French President has generally used the annual press address to introduce new media and information laws. This year, however, he has too little time ahead of the election to ensure that new rules are actually implemented, but in his speech he hinted at possible future regulation if he is re-elected.

“On the question of algorithms, we will have to have collective debates and, without a doubt, regulations,” said Macron. He added that researchers should have more access to “the data and algorithms” from online platforms – which is likely via the EU digital services law, a content moderation bill currently being discussed in Brussels and one of France’s priorities during its presidency.

Macron also promised the media to go back to going after big tech companies if they refuse to pay for news.

The French president slammed Google and said Paris will make sure the EU copyright reform that gives press publishers so-called neighboring rights is actually effective – and won’t shy away from doing more.

“We will, if necessary, complete our French and European texts in order to achieve what has been and remains our goal: fair remuneration for copyright and related rights,” he said.

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