Greek bill threatens press freedom

Increasingly, right-wing and authoritarian governments are taking action to stop the spread of disinformation – while themselves using fake news to sow mistrust and assert power.

“This is complete fake news,” Foreign Minister Liz Truss told Sky News‘Kay Burley, after the host asked if the government “agreed to remove any specific mention” from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

In fact, it was reported in September that the UK “had reduced its climate commitments to secure a trade deal with Australia”. An email leaked to Sky News implicated Truss, who was then Commerce Secretary, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, agreeing to drop references to Paris Agreement targets on climate change to soften the trade deal. Australian.

This is not the first or the last time that an MP has unfairly accused the media of misinforming his audience of his decisions. In the aftermath of the parliamentary vote on the suspension of former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Andrea Leadsom accused the media of “”deformThe debate, before the government quickly does an about-face.

Since the term “fake news” was first launched by President Donald Trump to American journalists, it has become increasingly used by political leaders keen to escape scrutiny for their actions.

Today, the Greek government, led by the right-wing New Democracy Party, proposed an amendment to the penal code that would impose fines and even jail terms on journalists guilty of disseminating “fake news”. The law claims to be intended to combat disinformation. But critics fear it is an attack on press freedom by increasingly authoritarian leadership.

In an open letter, the International Press Institute said the Greek government “must withdraw its amendment” on fake news because “the bill’s vague definition and punitive sanctions would undermine press freedom and would have a chilling effect at a time when independent journalism is already under pressure in Greece.

While acknowledging the dangers of disinformation, the letter’s authors fear that “the passage of authoritarian legislation by governments that grants regulators or prosecutors the power to decide right from wrong and impose punitive fines? to the press is not the right answer and would lead to more harm than good.

The Institute sounded the alarm on the vague wording of the amendment, which did not define “false news”, before explaining how “particularly problematic the sanctioning of reports“ likely to worry ”or which were“ particularly problematic ”. “Undermine public confidence” in state authorities. Journalism with the power to report naturally undermines public confidence in government, just as investigative journalism arouses legitimate public concern or anger. Under such a loosely worded law, this type of vital surveillance journalism could be the target of political leaders anxious to limit criticism of their policies.

The Greek journalists’ union ESIEA added its voice against the proposed amendment, writing “that there is a danger that justice will intervene and restrict the freedom of speech and expression of opinion guaranteed by the Constitution on what is happening. pass around us ”.

The move follows attempts in Romania and Bulgaria to tackle disinformation during the pandemic – attempts which were shut down after criticism from the European Union. Hungary has, however, succeeded in criminalizing the dissemination of false information deemed to undermine the authorities’ fight against the Coronavirus with fines and prison terms.


Receive the monthly Signing time journal and quality support, investigative report.

Politicians and the fake news accusations

While there is no doubt that disinformation is rife online, the term “fake news” is increasingly used by politicians around the world to undermine investigative reporting and potentially embarrassing disclosures.

Earlier this year, the editor of the Yorkshire PostJames Mitchinson accused British MPs of “taking a leaf from Donald Trump’s fake news playbook” after his newspaper published an article about the diversion of vaccines to areas where fewer people had jabbed.

“Never in my career as a journalist have I suffered such a coordinated attack from those in power,” Mitchinson wrote. “They [UK MPs] wanted you to believe them, not us. The experience left me with a deep sense of unease.

In 2018, when he was Minister of Housing, Dominic Raab accused Inside the accommodation of “peddling fake news” after reporting that he had not participated in a housing task force. Raab explained that it was necessary for Parliament to answer an urgent question, while Inside the accommodation stated that “it was not inaccurate to announce that Raab did not attend the meeting, nor was it inappropriate to simply ask the question why in our roundup of the morning news “.

Backbench MP Andrew Bridgen called reports on Cambridge Analytica “fake news”, while Brexiteer leader Arron Banks called Channel 4 News responsible for “fake news” after revealing how Leave.EU broke rigged a viral video of “migrants”.

Outside of the UK, the term has been used most often by Trump to piss off his base against mainstream media, attacking CNN and Buzzfeed as “fake news.” Brazilian authoritarian leader Jair Bolsonaro has also attacked critical media, claiming he is “at war with fake news”. In Australia, conservative politicians such as Malcolm Turnball have accused the media of publishing “fake news” to satisfy what the right sees as “left agendas”. In Europe, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the organization Reporters Without Borders should be renamed “Fake News Without Borders”, while Orbán in 2018 told reporters “I will not answer the factories. false information “.

Other conservative attacks on journalism include Jacob Rees-Mogg calling the Huffington Post deputy political editor of being “either a rascal or a fool”; Matt Hancock referring to The Guardian like a “rag”; and Kemi Badenoch saying Nadine White’s emails asking for comment on a story were “scary and bizarre”.

He may not have used the inflammatory term “fake news”, but the Cabinet Office rejected a Mail on Sunday report on an investigation into foreign collusion at Downing Street, claiming there had “never been such an investigation”. The Mail on Sunday sticks to its story. Meanwhile, then Cabinet Minister Michael Gove accused open democracydenounces the freedom of information to be “ridiculous and tendentious”.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) safety survey, released in November, showed that 98% of respondents believed politicians should avoid viewing journalistic work as fake news because they have a role leading to play in maintaining high standards of public discourse.

Priti Patel, Nigel Farage and the Fake news Around asylum requests

The real providers of Fake News?

Right-wing governments like New Democracy in Greece are threatening to jail journalists for writing “fake news”, and conservative cabinet ministers accuse news anchors of repeating “fake news”. But often the sources of disinformation come from the politicians themselves.

In fact, it is often those who shout “fake news” at journalists who depend most on disinformation to maintain their grip on power.

In December 2020, the Labor Party called for an investigation into a newsletter sent out by the Wellingborough Tories that urged members to ‘militarize fake news’ and’ make enough questionable claims’ to ensure that ‘ honest speakers are “overwhelmed” and “obvious” the truth.

A year earlier, the Conservative Party was criticized for renaming its Twitter account to make it look like a fact-checking service during a leaders’ debate ahead of the 2019 election.

New Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Nadine Dorries has also come under fire for spreading fake news after sharing a doctored video featuring Labor leader Keir Starmer. Dorries was asked to check validity before sharing future social media content. Lucy Allan and Maria Caulfield also shared the clip.

In Europe, despite the ban on disinformation about the coronavirus, news outlets loyal to Orbán have been accused of becoming factories of fake news, with disinformation being cited as a “tactic” in the prime minister’s arsenal.

Bolsonaro may have denounced “fake media” but has been accused of systematically spreading disinformation as part of his strategy to come to power. Likewise, Trump and his supporters flooded the infosphere with fake memes, stories and misinformation to inspire his base – the biggest, of course, being the lie that he won the election. This lie claimed the lives of people and threatened to overthrow democracy, during the attempted insurgency of January 6, 2021.

A CNBC analysis of President Trump’s tweets since January 2017 found that his most popular and frequent posts widely spread misinformation and mistrust.


Signing time is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Signing time? Please find more information about us here


A new kind of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund better media.

Don’t miss a story …

Our main investigations include Brexit, the Empire and the Culture Wars, Russian meddling, the coronavirus, cronyism and far-right radicalization. We’re also introducing new color voices in Our Lives Matter.

Comments are closed.