© THOMAS SAMSON / POOL / AFP | French presidential election candidate for the En Marche ! movement Emmanuel Macron talks to the press on April 18, 2017.
French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron’s campaign Thursday denied press access and passes to two Russian state-backed media, RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, accusing them of spreading “propaganda” and “misleading information”.
The decision was described as “scandalous” by Kremlin foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, after Macron confirmed to AFP that the access applications had been refused.
“It (RT) is not just a news outlet like the others,” a source in the Macron campaign told the Daily Beast on Monday, “it is a propaganda organ. Therefore we have decided not to give it accreditation.”
RT promptly hit back, telling the Daily Beast, “RT has not received an official reason for its exclusion from the Macron presidential campaign. We hope that his team will see fit to afford the courtesy of accreditation to RT shortly, and not attempt to curtail journalism, and manipulate the media, by selecting who can and can’t report on his campaign.”
The Kremlin’s Zakharova said that the necessary requests had been made by Russia media and as “other foreign media have not faced any obstacles, we consider these prohibitory measures to be targeted and openly discriminatory”.
Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) were created by the Kremlin for foreigners, and are available in several languages including French. According to Le Monde, the French-language versions of both RT and Sputnik are “very present on [French] social media,” and both sites doubled their traffic in 2016.
A “smear campaign”
The Macron campaign did not offer specific examples of what it considered “propaganda” from RT or Sputnik. However, in February, Macron’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux accused the Kremlin of mounting a “smear campaign” via state media against the pre-EU centrist former economy minister.
Sputnik published an extensive interview with right-wing Les Républicains lawmaker Nicolas Dhuicq on February 4, in which Dhuicq accused Macron of being an “agent of the big American banking system” and of having “a very wealthy gay lobby behind him”.
The article may have prompted Macron on February 7 to publicly deny having an extramarital homosexual affair.
Anti-Macron or just pro-Le Pen?
Russia is viewed as a keen backer of Macron’s rival Marine Le Pen in the presidential race. Le Pen even met Russian President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow ahead of France’s April 23 first round vote.
Russian attempts to influence the French campaign via hacking are easier to prove: cybersecurity experts have said they are “99 percent sure” that Russian hackers are targeting the Macron campaign.
The Russian cyber-spying group Pawn Storm used “phishing” techniques to try to steal personal data from Macron and members of his ‘En Marche!’ (Forward!) campaign, the Japanese cyber-security firm Trend Micro said Tuesday.
“This group set up a specific infrastructure to target Emmanuel Macron’s movement in March and April 2017,” Loïc Guézo, Trend Micro’s strategy director for southern Europe, told FRANCE 24.
Pawn Storm – also known as Fancy Bear, Sednit, APT28, Sofacy or Strontium – is also believed to be behind the attacks last summer on the US Democratic National Committee, thought to be aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
The group is widely suspected of having links to Russia’s security services.
Moscow has denied any involvement in seeking to influence France’s election, which will be decided in a second round run-off between Macron and Le Pen on May 7.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)