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European Parliament to Silence Free Speech

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 7:19
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A properly coloured red button will allow the President to ban free speech if it is deemed as offensive by him. The fines and punishments imposed by the European Parliament on its members for using so-called racist, xenophobic or insulting language in their speeches have not had the deterrent effect they sought. The Parliament wanted to fine 2,980 euros to anyone that according to parliamentarians, offended people with their choice of words. “Freedom of expression is expensive in Brussels,” said Britain’s Nigel Farage (UKIP) as he mucked Parliament when he was punished for failing to respect Herman van Rompuy, then president of the European Council. Many Parliament members say they were frustrated with people using politically incorrect language and wanted to take drastic measures to prevent this type of action in the chamber. “The president can decide to interrupt the live broadcast of the session in the event of a defamatory, racist or insulting language or behavior,” says a new passage in Article 165 of the rules of procedure of the house approved in December by the European Parliament. The institution has begun preparations to create the necessary technical device to carry out the measure. The activation of the red button, as it is informally known, will have as effect the interruption of the emission by television, Internet and the internal circuit of the institution. In other words, the Parliament will not only censor the speaker with whom it doesn’t agree, but it will also ban the public from listening and watching a speech that does not suit them. The decision on its use will remain in the hands of the person presently chairing the meeting, and is applicable to plenary and parliamentary committees. “Interruption of the live broadcast. Decision of the President. Article 165.5 of the rules of procedure “, reads the message that the audiovisual service of the institution will issue when the decision is implemented. The European Parliament has not made any public communication to date on the measure. The intervention of the MP will continue to be recorded even if it is not broadcast live, but the president “may decide to erase” after the files of the institution “parts of the speech containing so-called defamatory, racist or xenophobic language,” the regulation states. In short, the President will have the power to censor anyone whose speech is deemed politically incorrect. The President of Parliament will act as a monarch. The standard has been in force since 16 January but has not yet been implemented. Sources of the institution admit that it involves going down a very delicate path and doubt that it will be put into practice. “It creates more problems than it will solve,” they acknowledge. One of the most cited risks, besides censorship, is that it will be a gift for politicians like Farage or Marine Le Pen, who would not hesitate to denounce European censorship and present themselves as martyrs of freedom of expression, members say. It seems difficult, moreover, to prevent their diffusion by other means, for example through the mobile phones or tablets of the MPs themselves. The decision is part of the reform of the internal rules of the chamber proposed by Richard Corbett, a British Labor MP, who also foresees a tightening of punishment for parliamentarians who violate the rules of the institution. “There have been horrible incidents of racist talk by MPs. They do this partly because the European Parliament gives them the platform to do it, to broadcast it live and reuse the video as propaganda,” Corbett argues. At the moment, “if a parliamentarian began to say that all Jews should be gassed or something along those lines we do not have the means to stop it and prevent it from being broadcast live on the whole continent.” The measure, says Richard Corbett, is reserved for “extreme situations.” In other words, the European Parliament wants to ban what they call extremis speech as supposed to letting the public decide whether such speech is incendiary or not. The initiative was consulted and debated with organizations working in the fight against racism, xenophobia, the defense of the rights of homosexuals or refugees. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) applauds the decision and regrets that the political will to implement it is be lacking. “We think it is a positive thing to stop the spread of speeches inciting hatred and racism,” they say while in the process acting hatefully by banning the right to speak freely. The European Parliament can not be used as a vehicle for its transmission,” says Sarah Chander, representative of ENAR. “Some MPs and organizations have criticized the measure for the implications on freedom of expression, but it still seems to be a good thing,” says Chander, who advocates applying evaluation and monitoring mechanisms to prevent possible abuse. The regulation foresees, for example, that the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament decides a posteriori which fragments should be deleted from the audiovisual archive of the institution, which acts as an official record. That is similar to Orwell’s 1984 Ministry of Truth. Incidentally, the EU and its Parliament have been critical of actions like this in the past, but now, because it suits their interests it is suddenly a good thing. This possibility existed before the last reform and has been used sporadically to avoid the existence of passages that are considered insulting to the institution. The […]

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