Fake news: from ‘Issue’ to EU strategy
The term ‘fake news’ has become a phenomenon in the last few months. According to Google Trends the term was hardly ever used until November 2016, when the US elections took place. Now, a year later, it has become such an important issue that the European Union is making a EU strategy about it. This article describes step by step how the European Union picks up an issue like fake news and brings it within its legislative sphere. From this we learn that we can start lobbying earlier then after the mentioning of the issue in the Work Programme of the Commission. It is possible to influence the debate when something is still an ‘issue’, floating around in the public debate and still ‘immaculated’ by the EU-institutions.
European attention for the issue of fake news started in March 2015. The European Council put the issue on the European agenda with her Council conclusions. In these conclusions the European Council gave a mandate with which the Commission set up the ‘East StratCom Task Force’. Its work consists to identify, analyse, and raise awareness of Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns on a daily basis. One of their tasks is the publishing of the weekly Disinformation Review.
Then, DG for Justice and Consumers of the Commission authorized a Eurobarometer survey. This was during the US elections and the explosion of the use of the term ‘fake news’ in November 2016. Results of the survey showed that EU-citizens have low levels of trust in the media and are worried about the independence of the media.
The European Parliament also picked up the issue and adopted a resolution in June of this year. In the resolution the institution called upon the Commission to analyse in depth the current situation and legal framework with regard to fake news. The Parliament wants to to verify the possibility of legislative intervention to limit the dissemination and spreading of fake content. The Commission then included this as a priority in her Work Programme of 2018, which appeared in October.
After this institutional landing of the issue of ‘fake news’, the legislative process of the Commission – the only EU-institution with the right to initiative – started on 13 November 2017 with the creation of a High-Level Expert Group on fake news. The expert group will start its work in January and its report is expected by the Commission in April 2018.
At the same time the Commission opened a public consultation. From this public consultation the Commission expects insights from the academic world, online platforms, news organisations and public authorities. Specifically the Commission asks for contributions on three main areas: the scope of the problem, the measures already taken, and possible future actions.
The expert group and the public consultation are the fist instruments of the Commission to come to a legislative framework. The purpose of these instruments is to develop a EU strategy on how to tackle the spreading of fake news and online disinformation. A first strategy will be published by the Commission in spring 2018. It will be published as a non-binding Communication.
The above shows how an issue is noticed an picked-up by various EU-institutions and encapsulated in a legislative framework.