The French government of Emmanuel Macron has introduced a new law to protect the French from “fake news” during election periods. This vaguely drafted amendment to existing press law seems to have been inspired by Macron’s resentment at rumors circulated against him during last year’s presidential election – which didn’t prevent him from winning. Widely opposed by opposition parties from left to right, and by most journalists, this amendment fits in all too well with the growing establishment campaign to censor dissident opinion by one means or another. The main pretext is the copycat Clintonite accusation of Russian “interference in Western elections.”
Applying initially only to election periods, to protect “our democracy”, this attempt to legislate the difference between true and false is a dangerous step in the door toward official censorship. Similar plans to ban “fake news” are brewing on the European level.
The law is superfluous to start with, since the existing 1881 French press law already sanctions insults, defamation and the artificial creation of panic, such as shouting fire in a crowded theater. But Macron’s government wants to go much farther, outlawing the spread of “false information”, obscurely defined as “alleging or lending credibility to a fact lacking verifiable elements of a nature to make it believable”. (…“une allégation ou imputation d’un fait dépourvue d’éléments vérifiables de nature à la rendre vraisemblable”.)
This definition is both unclear and potentially far-reaching.
To start with, a skeptic could ask what are the “verifiable elements” proving the existence of God, of life after death or of the effectiveness of prayer. There goes religion. How…