This is a story which would never take place in the United States, at least not yet and not with the official permission of the government. The European Union has obviously become increasingly alarmed over trends in popular sentiment rippling through their member countries. This started with Brexit, but has more recently cropped up with the candidacies of Marie Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Clearly such rabble rousing is not to be tolerated in the largely socialist paradise so something had to be done. The solution? The EU has passed new rules which will allow them to cut the broadcast of any “hate speech or offensive material” and then purge such speech from the official record. (Associated Press)
With the specter of populism looming over a critical election year in Europe, the European Parliament has taken an unusual step to crack down on racism and hate speech in its own house.
In an unprecedented move, lawmakers have granted special powers to the president to pull the plug on live broadcasts of parliamentary debate in cases of racist speech or acts and the ability to purge any offending video or audio material from the system.
Trouble is, the rules on what is considered offensive are none too clear. Some are concerned about manipulation. Others are crying censorship.
To be clear here, they are obviously not talking about concerns over any of the members giving speeches endorsing slavery, a new Holocaust or racial purging. They are talking about so-called “nationalist” platforms supporting some of these upstart candidates who threaten the permanence of the European Union Parliament itself. With more “exits” being threatened in places like France, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland, supporters of the EU clearly feel they are in danger.
Anyone who is acting surprised clearly hasn’t been paying attention to the news. This is representative of most of Europe in a nutshell. Despite the fact that we tend to think of most of our allied nations on the continent as being “westernized” in nature, their citizens (and indeed their lawmakers as well) do not have the same freedoms in terms of speech, religion and other things which Americans take for granted. It is still standard practice in many European countries for laws to remain on the books which allow for the prosecution of people who are overheard saying unpopular things, even if that option is not frequently exercised. Let’s not forget that Geert Wilders was recently convicted of a crime for chanting the word “fewer” at a political rally when asking how many Moroccan immigrants the crowd wanted to see.
This censorship at the European Union Parliament may be going even one step further. The Associated Press article brings up the fact that they are already looking at some sort of delay button for the live broadcast of parliamentary speeches. We have such things in the United States to prevent the seven dirty words from being heard on network programming (and yes, we’re looking at you, Joe Scarborough) but such a thing is not employed to prevent the airing of political diatribes, even when they include unpopular speech.
The only conclusion I can draw at the moment is that candidates like Le Pen and Wilders really have the wizened heads at the European Union in a panic. The lesson we can take from this is found in observing the response. Actual freedom requires a robust rebuttal and persuasive argument against real hate speech. But in the EU they can simply make your speech disappear, and the powers that be get to determine what qualifies as acceptable.