Saturday, April 21, 2012

French media question election reporting rules

After months of noisy campaigning in the presidential race, France's politicians and pollsters fell silent at midnight Friday, by law.
Until 8 p.m. Sunday, election day, when the last polling places close in the first round of voting, the country’s 10 presidential candidates may not give speeches or interviews, distribute fliers or update their campaign Web sites or Facebook pages.
And no media outlet, pollster or citizen is to publish voting data of any kind — no leaked exit polls, no hints on Twitter — on pain of a fine of up to 75,000 euros, or $99,000.
Traditionally France discovers the initial results together, all at once, at 8 p.m. on election night. 
This year, however, the great, borderless Internet may disrupt the best plans of the French authorities.
In recent weeks, media organizations in neighboring Belgium and Switzerland — where public interest in the French election runs high, but feelings of civic duty toward France run low — have made known their intent to publish results from districts where polls close at 6 p.m. as soon as they are available, around 6:30 p.m., 90 defiant minutes before authorized by French law.
Those announcements have set off a minor polemic in France about the value of the rules. Some French officials and journalists have argued that they are critical to French democracy. Others call them outdated, ineffectual and absurd, the same words they have used to describe the country’s “equal time” regulations that require each candidate, no matter how marginal, to be given the same airtime on television and radio in the campaign’s final weeks. 

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