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EU crackdown on fake news 'not designed to stop British criticism of Brussels'

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
UK Commissioner Julian King sets out EU plans to tackle fake news (Getty)

A new EU offensive on fake news is not designed to limit criticism of Brussels from the British media, the UK’s top diplomat in Brussels has said.

Sir Julian King defended the “rich tradition” of “partisan journalism” in the UK as he launched news measures aimed at tackling online disinformation in Brussels today.

He presented the European Commission’s plan for a new code of conduct for online platforms like Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Companies have been given until the end of the year to agree rules that make it easier for users to identity sponsored content, restrict targeted advertising and shut down fake accounts.

The December deadline is meant to prevent interference in the European elections due to take place next March.

Commissioner King said: “The spread of deliberate disinformation – fake news – to influence and manipulate behaviour, to sow doubt and division is a real threat to the cohesion and stability of our societies and our to our democratic institutions.”

At the press launch of the policy, he he was asked whether he considered the British media’s reporting of the EU over the past decade a “disinformation campaign.”

But he said: “Partisan journalism, freedom of speech, freedom to disagree, freedom in some cases to be a bit disagreeable, is not what we’re targeting here.

“I think there is a rich tradition, as you asked me about the UK, of partisan journalism in the UK and indeed there may be some colleagues in this room who proudly practice that.

“That’s not what we’re talking about here.”

He said the plans were a “million miles away from censorship” and that the Commission would be consulting traditional media on how to tackle fake news.

“Because you disagree with something, because you disagree with the underlying thinking behind something, doesn’t make it necessarily fake news,” he added.

Other measures to combat fake news being taken by the Commission includes the foundation of an independent network of fact-checkers and support for member states against cyber threats.

Commissioner King said European countries were in a “new kind of combat” online and singled out Russia as one of the foreign actors waging an information war.