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Parliamentary questions
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19 November 2020
Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell
on behalf of the European Commission
Question reference: E-004167/2020

The European External Action Service’s (EEAS) Task Force South (TFS) is regularly exposing and responding to disinformation against the European Union’s (EU) position and action in Syria, in close coordination with the EU’s diplomatic network and EU Member States. In parallel to the reports and cases on EUvsDisinfo.eu, TFS developed a campaign(1) to address the disinformation claims that the EU is waging an economic war on Syria via EU restrictive measures. The campaign, including a video explainer, was successful in breaking through the noise of disinformation by building a digital coalition(2) that promoted the EU stance online, crowding out the information space for adversaries. Syrian civil society re-used the Arabic video to multiply the EU narrative.

There are broad concerns over Russian state-controlled media’s standards of journalism. The EU is not in a position to impose penalties against the publication of false or misleading information. Penalties or bans can be imposed by the relevant national regulators of the media sector of the Member States(3). The measures designed to tackle disinformation have to remain proportionate to their objective and shall not undermine fundamental rights and freedoms.

The EEAS has documented more than 9 000 cases of disinformation over the past five years. Regrettably, Russia Today and Sputnik regularly feature there. The EEAS will continue to develop responses to address disinformation campaigns in the EU’s neighbourhood, including in Syria.

(1)The campaign was designed by the EEAS TFS together with the Managing Directorate for the Middle East and North Africa the Sanctions Division of the EEAS, EUDEL Syria and FISMA. It was rolled out in the context of the Brussels IV Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.
(2)Journalists, diplomats , arliament , researchers and activists , praised the EEAS for this campaign. The video explainer sparked and set the tone for a debate on English twitter around EU sanctions in which this digital coalition added layers of explanations and nuances. Here the links to a few examples: https://twitter.com/diplocharlie/status/1268983919548018697 , https://twitter.com/NathalieLoiseau/status/1268994279847931906 https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/1268999648053792768 , https://twitter.com/SyrianACD/status/1269567056636248065 , https://twitter.com/tobiaschneider/status/1269616815610769408
(3)France’s regulator has issued a warning to Russia Today (RT) over its coverage of the Syrian conflict, Latvia and Lithuania have banned certain RT channels, Estonia took action against Sputnik in line with the EU sanctions targeting its leadership, Facebook has suspended several pages linked to RT, and Twitter has banned RT and Sputnik from advertising in the United States over their interference in the 2016 election.
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