RTNDA and RTDNA Oppose Canada Law Restricting Twitter, Facebook on Election Night

Apr 29, 2011

TORONTO, April 29 /CNW/ - RTNDA Canada - The Association of Electronic Journalists and RTDNA - The Radio Television Digital News Association vehemently opposes Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, which prohibits transmission of election results to the public in a district where polling stations are still open.

The law was initially intended to curb national media outlets from "prematurely transmitting" electoral results across time zones, theoretically preventing election results in Eastern Canada from influencing voters in the West, despite a lack of evidence suggesting that has ever been the case. The stakes are raised a bit more now with social media's emergence as a primary reporting tool. As it stands now, if a media organization or individual tweets about or Facebook comments about Canada's election results prematurely, a law has been broken with the offender subject to a maximum fine of $25,000, or up to five years in prison.

"Social media is emerging as a critical tool spawning new hopes for democracy in northern Africa and the Middle East. We should not see it going the other way in Canada," said RTNDA Canada president Andy LeBlanc. "The Canadian news media has long been prevented from broadcasting election results to places where the ballots are still open. That didn't stop people from calling friends and relatives on the other side of the country to discuss ongoing election results. Millions of Canadians using Twitter and Facebook should not risk persecution for participating in an unfolding democratic process, the kind of political engagement people in other parts of the world are dying to achieve." 

"We're living in a breaking news, digital world," said RTDNA Chairman Mark Kraham. "News consumers expect - and are entitled to - the most up-to-date, comprehensive information available, especially when it comes to electing a nation's leaders. This law is archaic and
 condescending to voters and should be revised as soon as possible."

"RTDNA strongly advocates ethical and responsible elections reporting,"
Kraham continued. "Information about election results should be delivered after a strong confirmation process ensuring that voters are given accurate information."

Canada holds its federal elections next Monday, May 2nd.

In a report by the Montreal Gazette, John Enright, who speaks for Elections Canada, said his agency has no choice but to administer the law as written. Citizens are allowed to phone or text friends, or send private e-mails. But posting to a Facebook wall, to a webpage or to Twitter will be considered a violation.

"The legislation is still on the books, so our role as Elections Canada is to administer the legislation that is before us," said Enright, in the Montreal Gazette report. "If there's a breach of the law, Elections Canada is not going to discriminate between the Mothercorp and Joe Smith down the street."

About RTNDA Canada and RTDNA

RTDNA is the world's largest professional organization devoted exclusively to electronic journalism. RTDNA represents local and network news professionals in broadcasting, cable and other digital media in more than 30 countries.

RTNDA Canada is the voice of electronic journalists and news managers in Canada.  The members of RTNDA Canada recognize the responsibility of broadcast journalists to promote and to protect the freedom to report independently about matters of public interest and to present a wide range of expressions, opinions and ideas. The RTNDA Canada Code of Ethics, adopted by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, is used to measure fairness and accuracy in the profession.

For further information:

RTNDA Canada President Andy LeBlanc president@rtndacanada.com. Or RTDNA Ryan Murphy, ryanm@rtdna.org

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