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EU officials have softened a report on misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic in response to pressure from China, reports said.
The New York Times and the South China Morning Post claimed to have obtained original versions of the report, which each publication cited as more damning than the document released on Friday. The document is said to have been edited following pressure from China over possible “repercussions” against its trading partners.
The European External Action Service (EEAS) later denied publishing any part of the report in response to political pressure, expressing disappointment in the Times report.
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The UK Daily Telegraph reported that China had originally attempted to block the report before the EU “reorganized or removed” some of the criticism of the Chinese government.
The published report describes several efforts by China to spread disinformation, in particular a “coordinated push by official Chinese sources to divert all blame for the outbreak of the pandemic”.
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The original document included language that spoke of “a global disinformation campaign to divert blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image”. The new version also omitted references to Chinese criticism of France and a network of pro-Chinese robots in Serbia.
According to the South China Morning Post, the section was removed after Beijing warned European diplomats based in China that there would be “repercussions” if the document was published. The Post reported that diplomats feared the report would “strain” relations and make it “difficult to obtain medical supplies” from China.
The Times reports that Esther Osorio, communications advisor to EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, ordered the publication to be delayed.
Osorio is said to have asked analysts to revise the document to focus less on China and Russia to avoid accusations of bias. Instead, she asked that the document differentiate between pushing disinformation and aggressively pushing a story.
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At least one analyst officially opposed the delays and the changes, writing to his bosses that the European Union “self-censored to appease the Chinese Communist Party”.
The Times met with EU spokesperson Peter Stano, who said that no revision of the document had been ordered in response to diplomatic pressure and that the document had not been delayed.
Fox News spoke to Stano about the charges.
“The EEAS publications are categorically independent. We have never given in to any alleged external political pressure. This also includes our latest overview of trends in disinformation released last Friday, “said Stano.
“The EEAS special public report makes clear reference to the continued use of conspiracy accounts and the misinformation of government and state-backed sources, including Russia and China. This is a good indicator that the EU has not backed down from any outside pressure. . “
“The New York Times article makes unsubstantiated and inaccurate allegations and contains factually incorrect conclusions regarding the EEAS report. They also used our responses and explanations disproportionately and selectively. We wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times to express our disappointment with the article and to invite them to visit the website www.euvsdisinfo.eu in order to fully understand the scope of the work. carried out by the EEAS to collect, analyze and expose disinformation on the coronavirus. “
The EEAS has compiled the report from documents, emails and interviews to determine the extent to which disinformation about the pandemic has allowed it to spread. Stano stressed that the current report does not “refrain from naming the actors in the disinformation efforts”.
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“The objective of this report is to provide an instant overview of current trends and information on disinformation activities related to COVID-19 / Coronavirus,” said the report in its preface. “It does not provide a complete or complete overview and mainly focuses on the external dimension, in accordance with the mandate of the European External Action Service (EEA). “
In a report released on April 1, the disinformation team said that “state media and Chinese government officials are promoting unproven theories about the origin of Covid-19,” adding that Chinese coverage has in evidence “expressions of gratitude from certain European leaders in response to Chinese aid. “
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The EEAS was originally created to monitor possible misinformation from Russia, but last year expanded its mission to include China.