French president proposes law against fake news

By Emil Weber

"How could a judge restore the truth about a journalistic work when this work displeases the government and therefore accuses it of being fake news?" About the planned law against fake news by France's president Macron.

Emmanuel Macron French President Emmanuel Macron (copyright: EU2017EE (36669381364) (cropped 2), CC BY 2.0)

The President of France, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, said on 3rd January that he plans to propose a law against "fake news", sparking media scepticism on what it actually means.

"When fake news is spread, it will be possible to go to a judge … and if appropriate have content taken down, user accounts deleted and ultimately websites blocked”, Mr. Macron said, according to

Editor Walid Salem, director of the online news portal Rue89 Bordeaux, who took part in the CrossCheck project to identify fake news during the 2017 French elections, says that it is difficult to have the right opinion on the proposal as Mr. Macron did not “really specify its content”.

“If the law concerns fakes news on social media, it will be against fictitious accounts, trolls and bots. Knowing that some of them come from foreign countries, this law will be inapplicable”, Mr. Salem told the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).

“He (the President) said that ‘in case of fake news propagation, it will be possible to ask a judge to delete fake news, to close a user account, or even to block access to the website’. This can affect press freedom, [since] the journalist is not required to reveal his sources. So, how could the judge restore the truth about a journalistic work when this work displeases the government and therefore it is accused of being fake news”, Mr. Salem said.

According to Mr. Salem, on this point, the French President’s proposal is reminiscent of the German Act of the previous year, the so called Facebook law or Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz, as criticised by senior ECPMF figures. “It allowed [social media] platforms to decide what is true and what is wrong”, he said.

Following the discussions on the German law, the massively popular platforms, Facebook and Google, had announced plans to combat fake news.

Mr. Macron’s law is proposed to address the paid content in social media platforms as well. “Platforms will have more transparency obligations regarding sponsored content to make public the identity of sponsors and of those who control them, but also limits on the amounts that can be used to sponsor this content”, he said.

Mr. Walid Salem, editor of the online news portal Rue89 Bordeaux says that most fake news items are not "sponsored". “This law can fight at best fake advertising. Note that a specific law already exists in France and it is very seldom applied to online advertising”.

“Macron's move targets directly Russian outlets”

Mr. Macron had promised tougher rules for online publication during his 2017 Presidential election campaign. At that time, he had banned the Russian media, RT and Sputnik, from covering him. 

Another of the CrossCheck experts on fake news in France, Ms. Aline Robert, editor in chief at, says “Macron’s move targets directly Russian outlets - RT and Sputnik, especially as RT is launching a [French] channel these days”.

“He wants to focus on who finances what, and also to limit the amount of money invested”, Ms. Robert told ECPMF. “His idea has been criticised as we already have a ‘press freedom’ law from 1881 that allows not a judge but a prosecutor to sue in case of ‘fausse nouvelle (false news)’; it is inefficient not because of the law, but because of the judiciary system that is totally under-financed and under-staffed”.

Ms. Robert wrote a longer article on how Mr. Marcon’s initiative moved ahead of the European Commission plans, as the EU Digital Commissioner had promised to publish a strategy paper on fake news early in 2018.

“My point of view is that we should rather have a European approach - starting with financing the anti-propaganda service established by the foreign affairs from the EU Commission”, Ms. Robert said. 

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