د . إAEDSRر . س

Is Free Speech Becoming An Excuse Used To Mask Unprofessionalism?

Article Featured Image

A recent parliamentary controversy that initially prohibited an MEP from taking the podium due to a t-shirt with an anti-racism message has sparked a debate on whether speakers should be able to sport any sign or slogan that they so please.

And whether this potential ease of regulations will open the floodgates to unnecessary theatrics that will only take away from parliamentary debates for the sake of optics disguised as freedom of expression.

Spanish MEP and member of The Left, Miguel Urban was wearing an anti-racism t-shirt that said “Madrid will be the grave of racism,” a play on a historic Spanish phrase that condemns fascism, when he was told that he could not take the stand during a debate assessing the new EU Asylum Agency.

Urban wasn’t allowed to speak because his t-shirt went against the rules of procedure that forbid banners and clothes with slogans; “this is why his right to speak was not respected”, the mediator explained.

This led to a number of MEPs, including Malta’s Cyrus Engerer, to refuse their speaking time in protest against the rule.

And after Engerer eventually spoke, the mediator urged members to stick to the rules of procedure, while explaining that he believes that there is “an absolute need” to reconsider such regulations.

At first thought, most people would see this act as one of solidarity, not only with the Spanish activist, but with the message of anti-racism and the right to free speech.

However, if parliament were to allow MEPs to wear anti-racism messages, shouldn’t they allow other members of parliament to plaster any kind of movement or opinion on their clothing – no matter how controversial?

Wouldn’t this mean that another member should be able to wear a t-shirt advocating anti-immigration or anti-abortion?

Or that a conservative Turkish MEP would be allowed to wear “screw the Istanbul Convention”?

Again, many would argue that yes, MEPs should be able to wear whatever they like in spite of the controversy and due to their right to expression and free speech.

However, speakers already have the ability to say virtually anything they want during their allotted speaking time as long as it has to do with the debate at hand – and others would argue that this should be enough to preserve the integrity of the debate and not let it become a contest of most merched out MEP.

Speaking time in the Chamber is allocated according to certain criteria:

1. A first fraction of speaking time is divided equally among all the political groups;

2. A second fraction is divided among the groups in proportion to the total number of their members, MEPs who wish to speak are entered on the list of speakers in an order based on the numerical size of their group, and;

3. A priority speaking slot is given to the rapporteurs of the committees responsible and to representatives of other committees asked for an opinion.

As you can see, the allotted speaking time is divided in quite an equal manner – most MEPs have the right to the same amount of podium time to express their views and present their arguments.

A time that begins and ends with the speakers words.

However, adding in clothing will unfairly and indirectly prolong, or at least disjoint, the rules of speaking time. This is because their opinion will still be advocated – this time in the form of written word or images.

Therefore, by allowing banners and slogans the speaking time will be indirectly skewed and focus will move away from the report in discussion.

Case in point, the controversy surrounding Urban’s attire turned a debate about an Asylum Seeking Agency to one of free speech. It prolonged the debate and distracted viewers and speakers from the concrete report that was being presented.

Instead of advocating for the European Asylum Support Office which can allocate additional resources to member states so that they can improve the lives of actual migrants who are often victims of racism, MEPs chose not to speak in defence of a concept.

Of course, Urban’s message of anti-racism is one that Lovin Malta unequivocally agrees with, however, the medium in which it was presented threatens other aspects of parliamentary proceedings which can open the door to unnecessary theatrics that pull away from resolutions that are there to implement real and sometimes revolutionary change in support of messages like his.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Cover photo (right) taken from Medium.com

Do you think that MEPs should be able to wear what they want?

READ NEXT: Want To Solve Malta’s Treating Problem? End Prime Minister’s Pure Snap Election Powers 

Ana’s a university student who loves a heated debate, she’s very passionate about humanitarian issues and justice. In her free time you’ll probably catch her binge watching way too many TV shows or thinking about her next meal.

You may also love

View All