The government gave up on Tuesday its service "Désinfox coronavirus", a section of its website which listed "fact-checking" articles on Covid-19, in the face of the strong reactions it aroused among journalists, many to him. accusing himself of being an information arbiter and of infringing press freedom.
Put online at the end of April, this new section of the government.fr website (https://www.gouvernement.fr/info-coronavirus/desinfox), which was deactivated Tuesday afternoon, presented links to "media articles". French people fighting, in the context of the health crisis, against disinformation ".
These were articles from the fact-finding services of franceinfo, Liberation, 20 Minutes, Le Monde and Agence France-Presse.
The objective, according to the government, was to highlight the multitude of false information circulating on the coronavirus and to combat this phenomenon.
"We are witnessing a proliferation, which I will describe as unheard of, false information, (...) and which can have serious health consequences," government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said on Saturday against the controversy. triggered by this initiative.
And to quote the false information on "supposed treatments which would make it possible to overcome the coronavirus", like "this recommendation recommending to swallow bleach to decontaminate from the inside".
But several media leaders whose articles have been selected had denounced in recent days a confusion of roles, such as the editor of Liberation Laurent Joffrin. "Government communication is one thing, the work of the editorial staff is another. This publication without further explanation risks causing confusion in the minds of readers," he said.
- "Mix of genres" -
"For months, Liberation, the investigative unit of Radio France, Mediapart, Le Monde, and many others, publish investigations that will never be repeated on the official government website because they are embarrassing for the executive," added Luc Bronner, managing editor of Le Monde, assuring that if his newspaper had been consulted beforehand, "we would have refused this type of approach".
And, in a text published on Sunday, around thirty journalists 'and writers' societies denounced the operation in chorus, saying that "the state is not the arbiter of information" and that it "gives the impression, in a mixture of harmful genres, of labeling the production of certain media ".
Finally, the National Union of Journalists (SNJ), which had criticized the approach in a joint text with the SNJ-CGT, announced Monday evening that it had seized the Council of State for interim measures to obtain the outright withdrawal of this section, seeing it as "an attack on press freedom".
The government first tried this weekend to respond to these criticisms, by ensuring that there was no sorting among the articles and the media identified, before the Minister of Culture Franck Riester, responsible for questions related to freedom of the press did not announce the removal of "disinfox coronavirus" on Tuesday, in view of the "concerns that have been raised by this service in the newsroom".
This initiative (emanating from the Government Information Service, GIS) "simply aimed to provide an additional service by bringing together on one page the resources to fight against disinformation during the health crisis" (...), and it is not 'was not for the state "to label the media or guide the choice of the French towards this or that media," he nevertheless assured.
For William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth, the SNJ lawyers who had seized the Council of State, "in its wisdom, the government backed down, undoubtedly fearing censorship on an initiative seriously affecting press freedom and neutrality of State".
For sociologist and media specialist Jean-Marie Charon, interviewed by AFP before the service was cut, whatever the government's intentions, this initiative could only contribute to fueling the recurring suspicions of "collusion between power and hurry".
This controversy follows repeated clashes between the executive and the press since the start of the five-year term, around respect for pluralism and the independence of the media. Tensions exacerbated during the adoption at the end of 2018 of the law against "infoxes", debates last year on an ethics body, without forgetting the numerous police violence against reporters during the movement of "yellow vests".
© 2020 AFP