The French National Assembly passed two bills this week concerning the censorship of “fake news” that have been sharply criticized as an attack on freedom of the press and the imposition of an “official truth.”
The two controversial bills—which now pass to the senate for approval—address the “manipulation of information” in the three months prior to national elections and referendums, granting sweeping powers of censorship to the judiciary branch of government. The bills respond to proposals by French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year for legislative intervention to prevent the spread of “fake news” on social media during elections.
At the time, French philosopher Alain de Benoist severely criticized Macron’s scheme for media control, comparing it to the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel 1984.
“And let’s not forget that the mainstream media, which today prides itself on ‘debunking’ fake news among others, had always been the first to relay government lies such as Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction,’” he wrote.
Acrimonious parliamentary debates over the last month have highlighted the difficulty of arriving at a common definition of “fake news” as well as the thorny question of who should have final decision-making power to judge whether a given story is fake news or not.
The first bill passed with 52 votes against 22 and the second similarly passed with a vote of 54 to 21.
According to Le Monde, critics of the bills within the Assembly said the text was at best “unenforceable” and “ineffective,” given the speed at which information travels on social networks, and at worst “dangerous for freedom of expression.”
Critics Warn French Plans to Censor Fake News ‘Despotic’ https://t.co/PanwYZaYfj
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 15, 2018
Some in the National Assembly called the measure “a sort of glamorous totalitarianism” of “information censors,” while Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of the Debout la France Party, blasted President Macron personally, calling him the “king of fake news.”
New criticisms compounded a stream of complaints about the bills already leveled last month. Marine Le Pen of the Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National) party called the proposal “liberticide,” which would become an “instrument of censorship.”
The president of the National Assembly voiced his agreement with Le Pen, declaring that the proposal had passed from “a good faith battle against true misinformation, which even the most presentable media could be found guilty of, to indirect censorship.”
On the left of the political spectrum, the leader of La France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who in early June had called these bills “gross attempts to control information” as part of a battle for the “soft power,” added Tuesday that “there is no other country where things like this are done.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome