Věra Jourová, vice-president of the European Commission for values and transparency, has decided to target fake news and disinformation. She calls it “potentially even more dangerous” than conventional weaponry.
Russia’s propaganda campaign surrounding its invasion of Ukraine has prompted this action, but it is also an excellent opportunity to address all of the fake news surrounding antiquities. Those guilty of promoting it include the media, governments, NGOs, campaign groups and even law enforcement.
Cultural property has become an important soft power diplomacy tool in recent years. The incentive for interest groups and individuals to spread false evidence and data as propaganda has grown substantially as a result. Equally corrosive has the been the failure to check the validity of claims. Lack of time and resources is at fault, but so is confirmation bias. If the claim fits your narrative, why bother to check whether it is true or not?
How to begin
Ironically, this applied to the European Commission’s own Fact Sheet, Questions and Answers on the illegal import of cultural goods to finance terrorism. Published on July 13, 2017, it set out the evidence on which the EC relied to press ahead with its import licensing proposals for cultural property and the art market. Researching the sources of its data and claims back to their original sources show clearly that they are groundless.
UNESCO’s 50th anniversary campaign, The Real Price of Art, and its bogus $10 million figure as the annual value of cultural property trafficking, have attracted extensive reporting in the media, but both are bogus and easily checked.
Many other questions arise over claims made by public bodies that should know better. The ADA and IADAA have exposed a large number of them for what they are. It is time that the authorities got a grip on this for the benefit of public confidence as well as better policy.