The report titled Information Manipulation: a Challenge for Our Democracies prepared by two government-linked think tanks – the French Foreign Ministry’s Center for Analysis, Planning and Strategy (CAPS) and the Defense Ministry’s Institute for Strategic Studies (IRSEM) – saw light on Sept.4. The paper urges the French government to “name and isolate” outlets that act as “foreign propaganda organs.” It suggests that journalists of Russian RT and Sputnik news outlets should not be accredited or invited to press conferences. “It’s important never to grant [these organizations] accreditation rather than to invite them to press conferences for journalists,” the document states.
Moscow is the prime target of the efforts to curb freedom of speech. The 200-page long report mentions Russia 60 times, the word Kremlin is used 48 times, Sputnik is referred to 14 times and RT is also not forgotten with the abbreviation repeated 10 times. The authors say they express personal opinions but it’s hard to believe it as they work for the government.
The French administration has demonstrated its hostile attitude toward the Russian outlets a number of times. Last year, President Emmanuel Macron accused them of having spoken “mistruths” about him and his campaign behaving not as “media outlets and journalists” but as “organs of influence, propaganda, and false propaganda.” That’s what he affirms though not a single example of spreading misinformation by the Russian media outlets has ever been provided.
The activities of Russian journalists in France are often obstructed. It’s not unusual for them to become victims of harassment. For instance, when RT France channel started to broadcast last December, 11 French public figures called on the county’s broadcasting watchdog Conseil superieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) to recall its license.
Meanwhile, President Macron is mulling a new restrictive law on media under the pretext of fighting “fake news”. It will introduce new rules on media publication during pre-election campaigns, providing the French Conseil superieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) broadcasting watchdog with a broader authority over the operations of foreign media in the country. The Commission on Legislation of the French Senate rejected the two bills designed to fight "fake news" on July 17 but the French administration hopes a new law will come into effect before the European Parliament elections in May 2019.
In April, the French Foreign Ministry organized an international conference titled "Civil societies, media and public authorities: democracies facing the manipulation of information." The French 2017 Defense and National Security Review as well as the 2018 Strategic Review of Cyber Defense emphasize the importance of measures to be taken against fake news and disinformation.
All the proposed legal initiatives and measures to regulate media activities presuppose only restrictions and prohibitions. The “retract, bar, ban and block” moves are proposed in abundance but no initiatives are put forward to advance freedom of press and unbiased reporting. After all, nobody forces French viewers and readers to rely on RT or Sputnik as information sources, they have a wide choice. It should be noted that with all the accusations piling up, no legal action has ever been taken against the Russian news outlets. So far, Moscow never retaliated against France Médias Monde holding, which comprises the France 24 television channel and the RFI radio station.
The issue of press freedom in France is coming to the fore as international events that need to be highlighted are to occur soon. France has stated it would join the US and the UK striking Syria’s government forces in case of a chemical attack. Russia has offered evidence of a false flag operation being prepared by rebels to subvert the efforts to drive them out from Syria’s Idlib province. By striking Syria the French armed forces are going to side with terrorists but getting people acquainted with this fact is tantamount to conducting “disinformation campaign.”
France has joined the US, the UK and Canada to condemn Russia for complicity in the so-called Skripal poisoning case. Accusations and emotions are plentiful, with nothing but a photo of two men who are supposed to be Russian military intelligence officers in Britain to support the charges brought against Moscow. Let’s look at what we have. One may like Russia or not, but nothing proves it has any relation to the Skripal case. What’s so wrong with this point of view? No information that could be fake, no lies, no concoctions of any kind are offered to the audience, nothing but stating obvious facts – there is no hard evidence to support the accusations against Moscow. That’s it.
Is there any explanation why French people should be deprived of their right to get acquainted with different points of view, so that they could form an independent opinion? Isn’t it what journalism is about? The French government has chosen the wrong way to quell opposing views. Bans incite interest toward the information that powers that be try to deny access to. This policy will make RT and Sputnik more popular. The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest.