Brussels in a rage of power: censorship is now called fact check

by Hannes Hofbauer*

Anyone reading the “Report on the Implementation of the Action Plan against Disinformation” presented by the EU Commission on 14 June will be shocked to discover that the establishment of an EU-wide censorship authority has already been largely completed. According to the message, which is still somewhat hidden, the dissemination of information which Brussels considers to be false and dangerous will soon be punished with sanctions including account freezes and travel bans.
According to the EU Commission’s paper, for which Federica Mogherini, the spearhead of foreign policy, is also responsible, “disinformation” is aimed “to distract and divide, to plant seeds of doubt by distorting and falsifying facts, thus confusing people and weakening their faith in institutions and established political processes”. The focus here is not on the large opinion-forming media groups, which day in, day out distract from facts and distort truths, but do so precisely with a view to stabilising the existing relations of power. A disinformer to be fought is someone who cast doubt on them and undermines their institutions.
Millions are thrown into battle for this struggle to stabilise (capital) domination in order to create, as they say, “a robust framework for coordinated action which is fully in line with our European values and fundamental rights.” The authority, known as “Strategic Communication Task Forces”, monitors the observance of true European values with the help of so-called factual auditors.
In the run-up to the EU elections, the Commission succeeded in wringing off from the big Internet giants Google, Facebook, Twitter and – somewhat later – Microsoft a “voluntary Code of Practice on disinformation” within the framework of cooperation agreements, not without threatening to take legal action if the results are not satisfactory by the end of 2019.
The EU’s own early warning system for identifying false information is also strengthening its cooperation with organisations in the global Western economic and military structure, the “international partners, such as the G7 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation”.

The enemy stands – as before – in the East

Within the Strategic Communications Task Force, the “East Strategic Communication Task Force” has been active since March 2015, when the aim was to create a Western hegemony of discourse in the Ukrainian crisis. The disturbing images of right-wing radical fighters on the Kiev Maidan using incendiary bombs and (later) firearms against law enforcement forces had to be portrayed as a longing for democracy and freedom. This was no easy task given the fact that reports by Russian media in English, German, French and Spanish opposed this narrative. The beginning of the EU-European censorship authority is thus rooted in the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.
Since then, almost all EU countries have implemented media task forces whose task is to observe and combat mainly Russian media. At the end of 2015, the EU then tightened its pace when the European Parliament adopted a resolution by a majority of votes that gave the task force a free hand and more resources. The press release said: “Propaganda pressure on the EU from Russia and Islamic terrorists is growing steadily. This pressure is aimed at torpedoing the truth, spreading fear, provoking doubt and dividing the EU”. On the other hand, the Task Force, which had already been set up earlier, must be increasingly deployed “in order to invest in vigilance and education”. Less than a year later, France’s President Macron doubled his efforts with the idea of making the dissemination of false news a punishable offence. The time has not yet come, but EU-wide observatories have been in place since October 2018, and an “early warning system” has been in place since March 2019.
According to page 3, Commission Report, the data collecting task force is confronted with “persistent and pronounced dissident activity from Russian sources”. In their view, the topics through which disinformation is spread are, in particular, the “questioning of the democratic legitimacy of the Union and debates about migration and sovereignty”, i.e. Brussels’ main trouble sports. The fact checkers have set themselves the task to obscure these flaws. Since the beginning of 2019 (until mid-June), they have, according to their own statistics, tracked down 998 “cases of disinformation”, which is twice as much as in the same period of the previous year.
In addition to the search for truth, the EU censors have set themselves the task of controlling and possibly removing online advertising. On the one hand, this affects those who use nasty tricks to increase their number of clicks, on the other hand politically unpopular media. The Commission’s report reads as follows: “All three online platforms (Facebook, Google, Twitter) have increased their efforts to improve the transparency of political advertising.” “Facebook has, unlike Google and Twitter, expanded transparency to topic-related advertising, but there are doubts about the effectiveness of this move.” Issues being scanned in particular, are immigration, civil and social rights and  foreign and security policy. The big US internet companies have proceeded to ban advertising clients who do not suit them (or the European Union) and close their accounts. RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik made this experience with Twitter as early as the end of October 2017.

NATO is a peace mission. Full stop

If so, then thoroughly. The EU Commission documents every single “disinformation case”. The alleged untruth, the medium that spreads it and the result of the “fact-finding test” are meticulously listed there. A review of the list retrievable under “EU versus disinformation” shows very clearly what the “EU action plan against disinformation” really is: The enforcement of Brussels’ view on politics, economy and society. Among other things, the fact finders focus on the “Russian nation”. For instance, the following was reported on Sputnik Germany on 7 June: “Russian president Vladimir Putin has rejected speculation about a possible unification of Russia and Belarus. This cannot happen, according to Putin. A unification of the two countries is impossible.
‘I will tell you why. Because it just so happened historically that we are a single people – and I believe that Belarussians, Russians and Ukrainians are one  people, I have said this many times before, many times, […] it so happens that live in different countries. Different states were formed’ Putin said at the international economic forum in St. Petersburg. From this Putin quote the EU fact checkers pick the phrase “I believe that Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians are one people” and exclaim: Disinformation! They call the Russian President’s view a “pro-Kremlin narrative” that reflects an “imperial and irredentist ideology”. In doing so they delegitimise the Russian view on cultural and geopolitical conditions and emphasise their own position as the only legitimate one. This corresponds to the economic advance of the EU and the military expansion of NATO to the east, and thus western integration ideas, which are to run parallel to disintegration in the east.
When the day before, on 6 June, the channel RT.deutsch accused Berlin of campaigning against Russian media, the task force censors exclaimed: Disinformation! To prove it they provided a quote by government spokesman Steffen Seibert, who had responded to the Russian accusation: “Anyone making such absurd allegations does not know much about Germany and its ideas of freedom of the press.” Really, this is what information looks like that has to prove itself in the fight against disinformation.
And two more hard Brussels fact checks that uncovered alleged Russian disinformation, show where to the journey goes with freedom of expression. Both are about NATO. On 5 June wrote about NATO’s “illegal war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia since March 1999”. The EU truth department responded with: disinformation! … and wordily stated that “the main reason for the NATO campaign had been to stop violence and repression and force Milosevic to withdraw his police and paramilitary troops. And when a week later, on 10 June, the Italian edition of Sputnik said that NATO was endangering the system of global security with their military increase, the truth seekers again shouted: Disinformation!    •

* Hannes Hofbauer, born 1955 in Vienna, studied economic and social history and works as a journalist and publisher. Last released by Promedia Publishers: “Balkankrieg: Zehn Jahre Zerstörung Jugoslawiens” (2001), “EU-Osterweiterung. Historische Basis – ökonomische Triebkräfte – soziale Folgen” (2008), “Die Diktatur des Kapitals. Souveränitätsverlust im postdemokratischen Zeitalter” (2014) and “Feindbild Russland. Geschichte einer Dämonisierung” (2016).

First published on from 24 June. Reprint by friendly permission of the author.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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