The European Parliament has introduced new rules which could see populist speeches wiped from the system without citizens ever knowing that they had taken place.
The unprecedented move, which gives the president the power to pull the plug on speakers deemed offensive during live broadcasts of parliamentary debates, and to purge offending audiovisual material from the record, has attracted concern as the rules on what is considered offensive are unclear.
President of the Brussels-based International Press Association (IPA) Tom Weingaertner said: “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.”
Following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (EU) last June, and with populist and Eurosceptic candidates riding high in the polls in a critical election year, many in the EU are determined to crack down on opposition to centralised power in Brussels and mass migration.
Senior Labour MEP Richard Corbett, who shepherded the bill through parliament, argued that it is dangerous to allow elected members a free platform to speak at a time when “there have been a growing number of cases of politicians saying things that are beyond the pale.”
“What if this became not isolated incidents, but specific, where people could say: ‘Hey, this is a fantastic platform. It’s broad, it’s live-streamed. It can be recorded and repeated. Let’s use it for something more vociferous, more spectacular,” he told The Associated Press.
Under Rule 165 of the parliament’s rules of procedure, the chair of debates is able to halt the live broadcast “in the case of defamatory, racist or xenophobic language or behavior by a member”. The material could also be “deleted from the audiovisual record of proceedings,” meaning citizens would never know it happened unless reporters were in the room.
Gerolf Annemans from Belgium’s populist Vlaams Belang party 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.”
Another speech which may never have seen the light of day had Rule 165 been in place, was that made in 2014 by Godfrey Bloom MEP, who said tax was: “a system where politicians and bureaucrats steal money from their citizens to squander in the most disgraceful manner.”
The former UKIP MEP went on to say that politicians in the EU were no exception and that the whole Commission and bureaucracy in Brussels avoid their taxes, warning that “the message is getting home to the people of the European Union.”
“You are going to find that Eurosceptics are coming back in June in ever greater numbers. And I can tell you worse: as the people get your number, it will not be long before they storm this Chamber and they hang you, and they will be right,” he said.