A senior Dutch official has warned that the EU’s ban on Kremlin-linked news outlets RT and Sputnik must come with safeguards – mirroring some rumors about whether the exceptional measure could set a stifling precedent.
In an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, Dutch Digital Minister Alexandra van Huffelen said that while she fully supports the crackdown on Russian state propaganda, the EU ban should be temporary and regularly reviewed.
“We should try to keep it as short as possible and as long as necessary,” van Huffelen said. “That should be the only very, very exception because we are in a state of war.”
Days after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to ban RT, formerly known as Russia Today, and Sputnik, EU countries on Tuesday approved sanctions doing exactly that. The legal texts were released soon after, providing national regulators with the grounds to take the two Russian state-run organizations off the air and off-line within the bloc.
The EU has taken the highly unusual step of cutting off the two channels – described in the West as tools of Moscow’s propaganda machine – amid a massive information war unfolding over Russia’s invasion of Russia. Ukraine, where civilian casualties are on the rise.
While all 27 EU governments unanimously backed the measure, three EU diplomats said the initiative had raised concerns in a handful of countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
“Some member states have raised concerns about media freedom or possible countermeasures against EU journalists working in Russia,” one of the diplomats said. “But in the end, nobody wanted to defend a Russian propaganda tool.”
Politicians, legal and media experts, as well as journalists’ associations, have also raised questions about the legal and political impact of this unprecedented ban.
Van Huffelen said it would be important to review the sanctions “over the next few days and weeks.”
The legal text of the sanctions states that the ban on Russian media “should be maintained until the aggression against Ukraine ends, and until the Russian Federation and its associated media cease carrying out actions propaganda against the Union and its Member States”. states.”
The Dutch politician warned that Russian state disinformation campaigns would continue, despite the measures.
“We know there are all kinds of platforms, Russian bots, etc., trying to deceive and misinform people,” she said. “So it probably won’t stop at what we’re doing right now. We also need to review that and see how it goes.”
On Sunday, Facebook announced that it had taken down organized disinformation campaigns by Russian state actors and hackers using fake accounts.
Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland last week urged online platforms to ban RT, Sputnik and other media including Rossija and Rossija 24. They also called on social media companies to adjust their algorithms to promote reliable information.
Moving forward, van Huffelen said it was “urgent” to finalize the EU’s revamped disinformation charter. The voluntary pledge – which could become binding when the proposed EU content law, the Digital Services Act, comes into force – would require social media giants like TikTok, Facebook and Google to pledge to make changes, including modifying their algorithms to remove online lies, providing more data to users and external researchers, and limiting micro-targeting of ads.
The European Commission, social media and messaging services, advertising lobbies, NGOs and fact checkers are currently negotiating a new version of the code, expected by the end of March.
Laura Kayali contributed reporting.
This article is part of POLITICSPremium technical font cover from: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools allow you to transparently research, track and understand the developments and stakeholders shaping EU technology policy and the decisions that impact your industry. E-mail [email protected] with the code ‘TECH’ for a free trial.