'Ministry of truth' fears over German government bid to stamp out fake online news

The German government has come under fire after it was revealed it is planning to set up a body to tackle the spread of fake news stories which mainly benefited far right parties.

However the Chairman of the German Association of Journalists says he fears the new ministry will mean more censorship, with some comparing it to an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”

George Orwell, in his famous book 1984, portrayed a nightmare vision of the future in which everything was censored, even the way people were allowed to think.

The move by the German government, according to local media, is targeted at fake news stories on social networks and political propaganda which they say is often coming from Russia.

The move would have ramifications for fake news spread on social media, such as content that allegedly helped see Donald Trump get elected as the next President of the United States.

It is also believed that this alleged propaganda tends to benefit right-wing populist parties, but critics say it should not be up to officials to decide what is ‘fake’ and what is ‘factual’ as this could lead to a deliberate deception of citizens and state censorship of the media.

Those in favour of the observation body, which would operate under the aegis of the German chancellery, have said that it will allow the government to regulate what they have called the “lying press”.

The body would be geared towards curtailing the dissemination of fake news on social networks, although local media said there would be “grey zones”. This is in keeping with the European Commission’s intentions to keep a close eye on social networks, although some have speculated that being effective in this endeavour could prove to be an uphill battle.

Ironically, those who appear to be most in favour of the move, including the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) who view it as a “ward against disinformation”, are also those most likely to be targeted by it, according to reports, as their arguments, which are often spread on social media, are often in contradiction with the government’s official position on issues.

The notion that there could be an official assessment of the news flow have led some to say that it could backfire, such as the political scientist and journalist Frank Ueberall, the Chairman of the German Association of Journalists, who said: “This smells like censorship.”

He said that the public discourse may not be permanently damaged by the fake news, “but it is not up to an official to decide what is true and what is not”.

Bernhard Rohleder, the head of the IT industry association Bitkom said: “Even the courts regularly fail” on this question. He called the position a “censorship monster”, which is already doomed to failure.

The body is scheduled to be discussed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the coming new year.

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