Ah, there’s nothing like being collectively called out as a country by Jay Rosen on Twitter. As far as call-outs go, at least, it’s pretty polite: “So, is anyone in Canada organizing a mass tweet-in to protest the (absurd) ban on election night tweeting?”
Rosen is, of course, referring to the made in 1938 law banning the “premature transmission” of electoral results across time zones. The fine for letting the cat out of the bag before the transmission blackout is lifted? Up to $25,000.
While the law was made with radio in mind, its purpose in today’s social media world is the same: to stop Eastern Canadians — journos and regular Joes and Janes alike — from broadcasting election results, potentially influencing voter behaviour in the West.
As Postmedia’s Paula Simons writes: “The law, frankly, was always patronizing and paternalistic.” But now, she adds, it’s also harder to enforce than it was back in 1938, or, heck, even 1988.
“This,” she points out (in case you’re stuck in the Dino Age), “is 2011, a digital universe in which media consumers expect TV channels and newspaper websites to provide them with live, breaking news in real time.”
The same held true even 10 years ago — the first time a Canadian was charged for posting election results online before the blackout was lifted.
As J-Source reported back when it looked at this issue during 2008’s election, B.C. software developer Paul Bryan was fined after he posted vote results for Atlantic Canada on his website during the 2000 election.
The case took years to wind its way up to the Supreme Court of Canada, where a majorly of judges ruled 5-4 against Bryan, saying that regulation in question, Section 329, didn’t violate the Charter of Rights.
The dissenting judges, however, agreed that technology made the blackout obsolete. They also sympathized with media sentiment that blocking the information flow is nearly impossible.
Indeed, as J-Source later reported, many bloggers flouted the law in 2008.
Will they this time? And will they be joined by the thousands of Canadians twittering on the election? And if they do, will it finally prompt a change in the law?
It’s hard to say. While Rosen may call our country out, and while some news organizations may continue to challenge the law in court (last week, the CBC and CTV wanted courts to declare Section 329 unconstitutional; the court declined to hear arguments before election day) not everybody’s willing to risk the fine.
One thing’s for sure: We’ll find out May 2.
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