Czechia’s plan to criminalize disinformation “might not be efficient enough”

Earlier this year, the Czech government announced its intention to revise the criminal code and include disinformation as a punishable offence. To Czech organizations that have been fighting disinformation for years, the new plan might not be efficient enough to tackle the problem. 

Following the wave of disinformation that marked the recent presidential elections, the Czech government drafted a plan to outline the problem and turn it into a punishable offence. The draft foresees an allocation of budget to NGOs fighting disinformation and the authorisation for national authorities to block disinformation sites. For organizations that have been fighting disinformation for years without legal backup, however, the new plan might be lacking in some areas. 

To Bob Kartous, spokesperson of the Czech Elves – a group fighting internet trolls spreading disinformation from outside the country, the steps taken by the Czech government might not be efficient enough to tackle the problem. “The Czech government believes the situation is too fragile to take proper steps, while still feeling the pressure of the public to do something,” he explains. 

According to Kartous, this tension between the government and the public might be the reason the new policy is full of mixed signals. On one hand, the government gets the plan to criminalize disinformation underway, on the other, they revoked the position of an envoy against disinformation just over a year after introducing it. Additionally, there is opposition from members of parliament: 

“Some are stuck in the 20th century and fear censorship, which can be avoided with the right measures. Others just want to keep the internet open for their own manipulation of the people,” Kartous states. 

In Germany, the Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz puts platforms to remove or block illegal content, but disinformation has not yet been criminalized. It remains open how the plan develops in the neighbouring country and, if the criminalisation law is passed, how it impacts the EU’s approach in these matters in the future. 

By Marina Vidal Rico and Rebecca Herber

Photo: Marina Vidal Rico 

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