French voters last to know president's name

5th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 5, 2007 (AFP) - Millions of French voters casting their ballots for the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy or the socialist Segolene Royal may be the last to discover the name of their new president on Sunday night.

PARIS, May 5, 2007 (AFP) - Millions of French voters casting their ballots for the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy or the socialist Segolene Royal may be the last to discover the name of their new president on Sunday night.

*sidebar1*French electoral laws, among the strictest in Europe, ban the publication of any opinion polls, estimates of results or angled news reports from the day before a vote until the close of polls, to avoid influencing voters' choice.

For Sunday's presidential vote, in which France chooses a successor to the 74-year-old Jacques Chirac, the ban runs from midnight (2200 GMT) Friday to the close of the last polling stations at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).

In France's overseas territories in the Caribbean and north Atlantic, which vote a day early, television screens went blank Thursday at midnight, with all cable and satellite news broadcasts suspended for 24 hours.

National news programmes were carried with a delay, to allow editors to slice out any reference to the electoral campaign on the mainland.

But though strictly applied in France, with fines of 75,000 euros (100,000 dollars) for offenders -- the rules are not enforced in neighbouring countries or for websites based outside the country.

In practice, any French person with an Internet connection, or who can pick up Swiss or Belgian radio from across the border, can easily circumvent the law.

From 1630 GMT on Sunday, the first projections of the results, conducted by polling firms based on a sample of votes cast but not designed for publication, will be sent out to political parties and the media.

In the April 22 first round, these secret figures were leaked and released by foreign media almost two hours before official projections were published in France at 1800 GMT -- and the same scenario is likely this weekend.

One Swiss mobile phone operator, Echovox -- in what it admits is a publicity stunt -- is offering to send text messages of the projections across the border to French users, for a 1.50-euro fee.

With French bloggers also threatening to post leaked estimates on their sites from 1630 GMT, the French media stand to be among the last to publish the estimated results of the country's own election.

Critics in France, including AFP, argue that the law puts French-based news organisations at a competitive disadvantage in a globalised media environment.

"We're in an awful situation," said Denis Hiault, global news director at AFP.

"As a French registered company we have to abide by the law of the land, despite the fact that this law is in some way obsolete in the Internet age," he said.

In the first round of voting last month, AFP had to wait until 1800 GMT to give the results even though it had them in hand for an hour beforehand, Hiault said.

AFP coverage of the first round was a success overall, Hiault said. "We're confident that our strength on the ground will make a difference at the end of the day," he added.

"But it is a unique and frustrating moment for journalists to have to hold back information which is being used outside France by non-French media. That last hour before the official release of the results seems to drag on for ever."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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