We are, sadly, used to seeing intrepid reporters on TV recording the activities of some dictator putting down demonstrations by those who would remove such tyrants from office. Often the most dramatic pictures are of riot police seizing megaphones from the crowd, dramatic because this is a powerful image of what is really going on: the suppression of free speech.

I mention the word ‘dictator’ since it is in such a context that one normally sees this sort of thing going on. Yet, in an indication of the road upon which we are now travelling, such activity is not confined to dictators, indeed it may be found a lot nearer to home.

Thus we discover the business of trying to ensure that the people of Europe might have their voice heard on the matter of how they are to be governed, and whether that debate is to be conducted on democratic lines, has taken an ugly turn. Indeed we discover that the argument is now about more than just whether there should be a referendum on the EU Constitution or not but is about whether those of us who say ‘Yes!’ are going to be permitted to say so and whether in future dissent from Le Grand Projet is going to be permitted.

So determined are the authorities in Brussels to get their hands on the levers of power that they are showing increasing distaste for any who might get in their way. Thus I bring you this account via Christopher Booker of events in the EU Parliament this week:

There were surreal scenes in Strasbourg last Wednesday as the European Parliament prepared to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by a huge majority. (It says something for the reverence in which we hold that parliament that not a single British national newspaper bothered to report the fact.)

Dressed in yellow chicken suits, three protestors against the refusal of EU governments to allow referendums on the treaty were chased round the corridors and up and down the staircases of the futuristic building by 15 burly security men trying to arrest them.

When Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party and one of the 50 MEPs of different parties who have been leading the pro-referendum campaign, was summoned to this fracas, he was interviewed by a television crew.

Pointing out that no officials had intervened last month when the parliament was invaded by anti-GM Greens dressed as bananas, he asked why it was only pro-democracy protestors who had to be silenced?

At the end of the interview, Anne-Margrete Wachmeister, head of the parliament’s audio-visual unit, gave orders that Mr Farage’ s comments must not be broadcast.

Overhearing this, Shirin Wheeler, presenter of the World Service’s Record programme (and daughter of the distinguished BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler) intervened to say that, unless this order was withdrawn, the BBC would withdraw its parliamentary coverage from both Strasbourg and Brussels. The official backed down.

Indeed Farage himself says that the exchange went thus:

After ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the European Parliament, UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage was interviewed by a freelance broadcast journalist. When the interview ended, Anne-Margrete Wachtmeister, head of the Audio Visual Unit in the Parliament, told the journalist: “You should not broadcast that interview.”

Shocked at this intervention, the journalist asked why he should not broadcast the interview.

“Because the film crew are employees of the Parliament and they should not be used to film dissent,” replied Ms Wachtmeister.

At which point Ms. Wheeler intervened.

First one must offer one’s congratulations to Ms. Wheeler for her spirited defence of free speech and of her stand against censorship, though I daresay that she may yet get into trouble with her employers for not obeying our masters wishes.

But is it not absolutely shocking that this should have happened at all? This was an act worthy of the East German Stasi and should tell us what we are really about here: not merely how we shall be governed, but about the very stuff of democracy itself.

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