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European Parliament, Strassbourg

European Parliament to crack down of free speech during debates

It has been stated repeatedly that Europe faces a critical election year, and a fearful European Parliament has taken an unusual step of cracking down on free speech, the Associated Press reported.

Published: February 27, 2017, 10:33 am

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    Brussels

    Lawmakers have now been granted special powers in an unprecedented move: to limit live broadcasts of parliamentary debates and to remove video or audio material that contain “racism and hate speech”.

    But the rules on what is considered “offensive” are not clear at all, suggesting rather that the Parliament – where elections are due in 2019 – is set on manipulation and censorship.

    “This undermines the reliability of the Parliament’s archives at a moment where the suspicion of ‘fake news’ and manipulation threatens the credibility of the media and the politicians,” said Tom Weingaertner, president of the Brussels-based International Press Association.

    Under rule 165, not made public by the assembly but first reported by Spain’s La Vanguardia newspaper, unwanted material could be “deleted from the audiovisual record of proceedings,” meaning citizens would never know it happened unless reporters were in the room. Weingaertner said the IPA was never consulted on that.

    Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France have become the headache of the mainstream. Le Pen, who is running for the French presidency this spring, has promised to follow Britain’s lead to exit the EU.

    Liberal interventionists in the European Parliament strongly feel the need to “sanction offenders” in order to limit the current political and nationalist theater. Debates in which members wear T-shirts with nationalist slogans or unfurl banners are common, and flags adorn the desks of many.

    During a debate in December, Gerolf Annemans, from Belgium’s Flemish independence party Vlaams Belang, expressed concern that the rule “can be abused by those who have hysterical reactions to things that they qualify as racist, xenophobic, when people are just expressing politically incorrect views”.

    Even those involved in the move to censor debates, acknowledges the sensitive nature of such a move. Helmut Scholz, from Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party, said EU lawmakers are elected and must be able to express their views about how Europe should work. “You can’t limit or deny this right,” he said.

    He worries about fake news too, put together from selective extracts of debates.

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