House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
States of disinformation
Written by Ralitsa Bobcheva, researcher
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
30 July 2020
Last week’s long-awaited Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russian interference in the UK paints a gloomy picture of Moscow’s influence in British politics.
While shying away from detailing the full extent of the Kremlin’s meddling in Britain’s democratic functions, one thing was abundantly clear: disinformation is one of Russia’s modern weapons of choice and the UK government, having apparently underestimated the threat, is now playing “catch up”.
If it’s any consolation, the UK is not alone in this respect and the report’s findings ring especially true for vulnerable democracies. Most recently, the coronavirus pandemic has provided fertile ground for the proliferation of misleading narratives across central and eastern European countries, prompting the European Commission to outline actions to counter the “unprecedented infodemic”.
However, the last few months have demonstrated that tackling disinformation on a national level – regardless of the ultimate culprit – is a highly complex and controversial task fraught with pitfalls, by-products and questionable motives.
In my home country of Bulgaria, shortly after a state of emergency came into effect in response to Covid-19, the government proposed a bill targeting journalists found to be spreading false information about the pandemic. Crucially, though, no clear definition of what constituted “false information” was offered, with the obvious risk that any such powers could be deployed perniciously at the discretion of Bulgarian authorities. Had it not been vetoed by the president; the amendment would surely have served only to further damage the already dire state of free speech in the country.
Similarly, in March, Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban passed controversial measures – including jail terms of up to five years – for the spreading of misinformation on coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, given Orban’s notorious historyof exerting control over the few surviving independent media outlets in the country, journalists feared that this measure granted the state an even more dangerous level of control over the media that reports on its actions.
The latest blow to media freedoms came only last week, with the firing of the editor-in-chief of the last key independent news website in Hungary, leaving journalists and readers alike bereft.
Disinformation as a tactic and a tool would appear to be here to stay. Regardless of its origins and the motivation of those responsible for its spread, the question of how to deal with it effectively – and without impinging on hard-won liberties – is one that many countries will be grappling with for years to come.
Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce that the self-isolation period is to be increased to 10 days in England as ministers try to avoid a second wave of Covid-19 infections following an uptick in cases in Europe and concerns about several local outbreaks in Oldham, Wrexham and Staffordshire.
According to a paper published by the Scottish government, surgery is expected to operate at 60% capacity for at least two years because of coronavirus. The estimate was made within a report looking at how cancer surgery specifically can recover, which warns that the return to normal levels of theatre use could be delayed even further in case of future surges in Covid-19 infections.
The US is planning to pull 12,000 troops out of Germany as part of what the Pentagon insisted is a “long-term strategy”, despite President Trump’s earlier remarks that the move is to punish Berlin for not spending enough on defence.
Business and economy
Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google executives were labelled “cyber barons” at a combative congressional hearing in the US yesterday. The hearing in Washington saw the technology CEOs face intense questioning, with Democrats accusing the four of dominating markets, crushing smaller competitors and exploiting user data.
The Federal Reserve has warned that the pace and quality of economic recovery in the US remains at risk from any resurgence of the coronavirus, as the central bank extended measures to prevent an international shortage of dollars. (£)
Boeing is to stop producing its 747 plane and has slowed production of the 737 Max as it warns of further job cuts on top of the 16,000 layoffs previously announced. This comes after the firm disclosed a $2.4bn (£1.8bn) loss as the coronavirus depressed demand for air travel.
Columns of note
In City AM, Denise Wilson weighs the benefits and potential pitfalls of the mass work-from-home experiment that has taken place over the past few months. With the pandemic forcing companies to adapt quickly to remote working practices, a new model for the workplace is a conversation employers need to be having with employees now. (£)
Writing in The Times, Richard Crellin argues that one group has been missingfrom the conversation about the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic: children. He calls not only for increased public debate but also for more research into the harm that lockdown has been causing to young people.
What happened yesterday?
US stocks climbed on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.61%, while the S&P 500 was ahead 1.24% and the Nasdaq Composite ended up 1.35%.
In London, the FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.036% at 6,131.46, while the FTSE 250 was 0.18% weaker at 17,247.66.
In Europe, equities had a mixed day, with the Stoxx Europe 600 index slipping 0.1% alongside the German Dax falling 0.1% to 12,822, while in France the CAC 40 was up 0.6% following better than expected results from Capgemini and Gucci owner Kering.
In company news:
Santander has plunged €10.8bn (£9.7bn) into the red in the bank’s first quarterly loss since it was founded in 1857. This is the biggest financial hit so far suffered by any lender during the coronavirus pandemic as job losses and business closures mount worldwide. (£)
Heathrow reported a £1bn loss in the first half of the year after the pandemic sent passenger numbers plunging at Britain’s biggest airport. (£)
What’s happening today?
The Panoply Ho.
Greencoat UK Wind
Gem Diamonds Di
Volution Group PLS
Angling Direct, BMO Global Smaller Companies Trust, Card Factory, Gabelli Value, Highland Gold, London & Associated Properties, Norcros, Onthemarket, Stobart Group, Tmt Investments, Volex
UK economic announcements
(07:00) Nationwide House Price Index (UK)
Int. economic announcements
(08:55) Unemployment Rate (GER)
(09:00) GDP (Preliminary) (GER)
(10:00) Economic Sentiment Indicator (EU)
(10:00) Unemployment Rate (EU)
(10:00) Business Climate Indicator (EU)
(10:00) Services Confidence (EU)
(10:00) Services Sentiment (EU)
(10:00) Industrial Confidence (EU)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13:30) GDP (Preliminary) (US)
You can ‘rewire’ your brain to be happy by simply recalling three things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days.
House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
House of Lords
In recess until 2 September 2020.
In recess until 10 August (with the exception of 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the bureau)