Twitter challenge: Canada election rules face test

Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:44pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A ban on early broadcasting of election results that dates from the 1930s puts Canada on a collision course with social media like Twitter and Facebook, making a scofflaw of anyone who tweets too soon.

Canada goes to the polls on May 2 and critics say the ban -- which was introduced in the days when radio was king -- is totally unenforceable in an age when millions of people have access to the Internet.

As the law stands, nobody can even tweet election results from Eastern Canada before polls close in the Pacific province of British Columbia up to three hours later. Canada has six tine zones.

Elections Canada, the agency that runs elections, reminded media this week of rules designed to prevent voters in the West from being influenced by results in the East.

Newspapers cannot update their websites with early results, broadcasters must stagger their reporting to be sure results go only to parts of the country where the polls have already closed and violators face fines of up to C$25,000.

"This will be unenforceable by Elections Canada, and if they intend to fine everyone on Twitter who breaks the rules they will have a good financial year," said Eric Grenier of the popular political website.

Grenier told Reuters he would play it safe and not start issuing results until the final poll had closed, although it's not clear whether U.S.-based bloggers will do the same.

The rule banning premature transmission of results is in stark contrast with the situation in the United States, where Californians often know the outcome of a presidential election while they still have a chance to vote.   Continued...

<p>(L-R) Canada's New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff meet prior to the French language leaders' debate in Ottawa April 13, 2011. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on May 2. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>