French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans Wednesday for legislation to stop fake news spreading online in the run-up to elections.
His statements were a veiled reference to the Moscow-backed networks RT and Sputnik. Russia has been known to create fake news en masse via “troll farms.”
Mr. Macron, who came to power in May, has previously lashed out at the Russian outlets as spreaders of “deceitful propaganda” and “organs of influence.”
“We are going to develop our legal means of protecting democracy against fake news,” Mr. Macron said in a New Year’s speech to the press.
Details of the bill will be released in the coming weeks, he said, but he told reporters that media would be forced to reveal all sponsors of their content among other measures to boost transparency.
Judges will be able to order media to take down fake news, block access to offending websites, and close social media accounts that spread untruths, Mr. Macron said.
France’s audiovisual regulator will see its powers boosted to better allow it to “fight any destabilisation attempt by television channels controlled or influenced by foreign states,” he added.
This would allow agreements allowing such channels to operate in France to be “suspended or cancelled,” also taking into account the content they publish online, he said.
RT and Sputnik both have French-language websites, and during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in May Mr. Macron accused them of publishing “defamatory untruths” and “deceitful propaganda.”
Since then, RT — formerly known as Russia Today — has launched a French-language TV channel, putting regulators on their guard.
Mr. Macron saw thousands of internal documents leaked online while running for president, which he blasted as an attempt at “democratic destabilisation like that already seen in the United States during the last presidential campaign.”
On Wednesday he said “thousands of propaganda accounts on social networks” were spreading “all over the world, in all languages, lies invented to tarnish political officials, personalities, public figures, journalists.”
France’s government will not be the first to attempt to fight fake news through the law.
In Germany, recent legislation puts social networks at risk of fines of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) if they do not remove fake news and hateful posts promptly.