Justice Minister Koen Geens is sceptical about the appropriateness of a law on fake news, judging from his response to Reformist Movement parliamentarian Jean-Jacques Flahaux at a parliamentary commission meeting. “At first sight, I doubt whether a legal ban is the best way to fight this phenomenon,” Geens said. “A ban risks creating many problems linked to interpretation and proof, and also needs to be maintained.”
The minister felt the issue was a matter for the managers of communication channels and media in the first place, whose job it was to check the truthfulness of the messages they disseminated and, where necessary, ban them from going out. They could be held liable in a lawsuit if the dissemination of fake news were to cause serious damage, he warned.
Geens also feared that a ban would quickly raise the question of freedom of expression and of the press. “Moreover, the dissemination of fake news can already be covered by certain penal provisions, such as slander and libel,” he said. “The problem, quite often, will be to identify the origin of the news.”
During his New Year wishes to the press, French President Emmanuel Macron had said he would like a law to fight fake news at election time. When fake news is propagated, such a law would, he said, provide for emergency legal action that would allow a judge to suppress content, dereference the website, close the user account concerned and even block access to the website.
On the following day, Macron’s spokesman explained that there were media that practiced propaganda and not journalism, including some owned by foreign governments. This was an apparent allusion to Russian state media RT and Sputnik, with which Macron had had many issues during his presidential campaign.