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Czech Interior Minister and President disagree about disinformation unit

16.1.2017 6:43
Czech President Miloš Zeman (left) and Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (right). (Collage:  Romea.cz)
Czech President Miloš Zeman (left) and Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (right). (Collage: Romea.cz)

Czech President Miloš Zeman and Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) met last week but were unable to find a common position on the new unit that has been focused on fighting disinformation since the beginning of the year. Zeman is convinced the staffers of the new department are incapable of detecting actual disinformation.

Some of the staffers are considered by the President to be ideologically biased. Chovanec insists that the effort is not about censorship.

The minister told journalists that discussions of the topic will continue with Zeman, who is supposed to allocate a staffer for contact with the Interior Ministry on the issue. The meeting lasted more than two hours.

Chovanec said the two men's opinions were unchanged by the discussion. Presidential spokesperson Jiří Ovčáček then gave an exceptionally detailed statement on the content of the meeting.

The minister disagrees with Zeman's opinion that the department would somehow be claiming a monopoly on the truth. In his view, the state is just supposed to provide its perspective on information that is essential to security, for example.

"Citizens can choose for themselves," the minister noted. He anticipates the department will be working with dozens of cases a year.

Zeman, however, is convinced that the 15 bureaucrats working on the issue at the Interior Ministry lack the qualifications and resources of the intelligence services, which are essential to detecting actual disinformation campaigns. Chovanec disagrees.

"They have been there many years. They can ask the secret services if there is something they don't know," the Interior Minister said of his staff.

The President believes the current staff composition of the new unit is rather based on the ideological bias of some of the workers. In his view, their negative relationship toward the newly-elected US President Donald Trump is apparent and documented.

The Czech President was a supporter of Trump's candidacy. He provided the Interior Minister with approximately 40 pages of background material on the issue.

Chovanec said he was prepared to continue the discussion after studying the documents. "It is necessary for us to speak together and not exchange messages through the media," he said.

The new department is part of the Center for Combating Terrorism, which was created in response to terrorist attacks elsewhere in Europe. It should deliver its findings to the Army, Police and secret services.

One section of the department specializes in detecting disinformation from open sources (including social networking sites) and refuting it. The unit should be able to clarify which claims are true or not within a matter of minutes or hours.

Over time similar groups should also be created at other ministries, to be coordinated by the Office of the Government. The ministry previously said the center will not have a "button for turning off the Internet" ,and will not force people to acknowledge anything is true, and will not perform censorship.

The center will not have the power to remove any content from either the Internet or the print media. It is not supposed to be an intelligence service, law enforcement authority, or security force.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Dezinformační web, Milan Chovanec, Miloš Zeman, Ministertsvo vnitra, Prezident



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