France: Government’s "désinfox coronavirus" page was short-lived

The "désinfox coronavirus" page, an initiative of the French Government Information Service (SIG), will be remembered as May’s fake ‘good idea’.

Le ministre français de la culture Franck Riester lors d'un discours devant le palais de l'Elysée à Paris le 6 mai. Auteur: Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

Announced in a tweet on April 30 by the French government spokeswoman, Sibeth Ndiaye, the page "désinfox coronavirus", a selection of fact-checking articles from some media about Covid-19, caused an instant outcry from the entire profession, in particular in a press release by two French affiliates of the IFJ, theSNJ and the SNJ-CGT, published on May 2. They denounced an unacceptable stranglehold on information policy: "By what right does the government authorise itself to decide what constitutes "good" and "bad" information?demandedthe unions. The quality of the articles put forward this way - emanating for the moment from only five editorial offices: Libération, 20 Minutes, FranceInfo, AFP and Le Monde - is not in question, but what about the articles on the management of the pandemic, published by these same media or by others, pointing to the state's unpreparedness, the sad state of the public hospital, the lack of planning for the reopening of schools, etc.? Will they have the honor of being cited in "Désinfox Coronavirus"?"

The next day, Sunday May 3, on World Press Freedom Day, 36 journalists’ societies (SDJ) and editorial societies (SDR) followed in the footsteps of the unions and signed a column in the newspaper Le Monde: "The French press is independent of the state and of political power. It must even exercise, in its plurality and under the critical eye of its readers, listeners and viewers, its role as a counter-power. As underlined by the European Court of Human Rights, journalists are the "watchdogs" of democracy."

Emergency appeal

The final blow was finally given by the SNJ on Monday, May 4, when they submitted an urgent appeal before the Council of State - "an interim application (requête en référé-liberté)” - asking the Council to order the Prime Minister to permanently remove this "désinfox coronavirus" page.

The following day, Tuesday, May 5, the Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, weakly defended the initiative in front of the National Assembly before announcing that this page would be removed from the government site.

The entire profession, led by unions of professional journalists, have forced the hand of a government that carries on turning a blind eye to the issue of freedoms in the face of deconfinement.

More than ever, wrote the IFJ last week, "Information must never be confined. Information must remain a public good."

Anthony Bellanger​