Defending Freedom and Democracy: Liberals’ Global Fight Against Disinformation

by | May 18, 2023

The event has taken place at 25 April 2023, in Brussels, organised by the Friedrich Neumann Foundation Europe. After the introduction of the panellists, the moderator of the event, Jana Sproul (Friedrich Neumann Foundation Europe) has made the statement common to all events examining the subject, namely that today information is power. In general, this has met with visible agreement with all the participants, and the audience was keen on getting more information on the region usually not on the screen of European analysts.

John Nery (columnist and editorial consultant, Rappler) from the Philippines have elaborated on recent political experience of this special “post-disinformation era” via the prism of two recent presidential elections. His analysis pointed out differences between the 2016 and 2022 presidential elections, and his conclusion was that the political result was not only the consequence of media and “fake news”, as it was expected by many. He has stressed that contrary to popular belief and some expectations, narrative is and was simply not enough for winning the presidential elections in 2022. Even though widely criticised by many because of communication techniques applied, the candidate himself had a crucially important role, just as well as the available funding and family background. Additionally, intense use of social media instead of mainstream media has made his campaign more appalling to many voters, mostly to younger generations. The speaker has emphasised the “Duterte legacy” being an important factor, as the candidate could distance himself from the previous president between 2016-2022.

Talking about the media situation in Mexico, Martha Tudón representative (digital rights coordinator) of ARTICLE 19 has applied a more human rights-based approach. She has elaborated during her presentation about the lack of definition of “disinformation”, while giving practical examples. She has made a disputable comment about “truth is not protected, false statements are allowed”, which has immediately raised questions among the audience via the IT system installed by the organisers, but unfortunately these questions have not received answers. Most countries’ legal systems make a very clear difference between questionable opinions and false statement of facts, prohibiting the latter, and local practice would have been extremely interesting for the participants. Additionally, the speaker has described the situation in Mexico related to journalists being “very bad”.

Brady Hills, senior analyst, and head of office in Brussels of the International Republican Institute has talked about possible responses to disinformation, which his institution has been dealing with since 2015. According to his presentation, while the most effective tool is resilience, both in the media and society, many countries and societies lack these capacities, especially those needed for any kind of counter-disinformation. While talking about responses from civil society, he was talking about possible European political reactions, mentioning a new European Parliament committee dealing with disinformation, but at the same time he emphasized that the European Parliament or its election is typically not important for Russia (or at least it has not been interesting so far), it has been much more active related to member states’ domestic elections, which is seemingly more interesting to Russian disinformation activities. This phenomena is clearly explained by the relative weakness of the European Parliament when it comes to forming European foreign policy.

The presentations have been followed by a networking event and the possibility of informal exchange of views and opinions.

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