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And he urged Brussels not to attempt any heavy-handed attempts to police the ways in which EU citizens access information, suggesting such a move would be counterproductive. Nicola Procaccini was speaking after the European Commission accused Russia and China of running “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighbourhood, and globally”, specifically with regard to COVID-19. However, Mr Procaccini, who is European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Coordinator in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, fears the impact of a consequent bid by the European Commission to counter fake news.
The European Union is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of credibility
He said: “The European Union is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of credibility.
“Since the Brexit victory in 2016, many governments, as well as the EU institutions, have blamed this lack of credibility on disinformation campaigns by external and internal agents.”
There was no doubt such disinformation exists, and has always existed, Mr Procaccini said.
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However, he added: “Our democracies were already aware of this when the European Union established freedom of expression as one of its core values.
“Member States have strong mechanisms to combat disinformation when it endangers the health and safety of their citizens.
“The ECR believes in freedom of expression, which means that in the very end, it must be the citizens who decide which sources of information they want to consume.”
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Mr Procaccini advised Commission President Ursula von der Leyen not to sanction anything too draconian, explaining: “Censorship would be unacceptable in democracies.
“In addition, although we have nothing against news verification companies, to us, it seems dangerous that these companies receive public aid, because then they will become dependent on the Government.
“We also reject the idea that these companies become a factual authority when it comes to information, as they are private companies with their own interests.
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“The final decisions should ultimately be taken by the relevant public authorities.”
It was ultimately up to the EU itself to convince the public of its trustworthiness, rather than pointing the finger, Mr Procaccini said.
He explained: “The best way to tackle disinformation is to regain the credibility of institutions.
“The notion that everyone – except governments themselves and the mainstream media – are deemed blameworthy or censorable will not serve to restore confidence in our institutions.
“The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that no one is infallible; there have been many communication mistakes by everyone.
“Blaming citizens and social media for misinformation during the pandemic could further exacerbate the feeling of distrust towards public institutions.”
Speaking yesterday, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said: “Disinformation in times of the coronavirus can kill.
“We have a duty to protect our citizens by making them aware of false information, and expose the actors responsible for engaging in such practices.
“In today’s technology-driven world, where warriors wield keyboards rather than swords and targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns are a recognised weapon of state and non-state actors, the European Union is increasing its activities and capacities in this fight.”
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