French regulators prohibit broadcasters from name-checking social networking sites to encourage viewer interaction

Out-Law News | 07 Jun 2011 | 5:35 pm | 1 min. read

Broadcasters in France cannot refer to social networking sites by name unless a story justifies it, the French audiovisual regulator has said.

The Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) said that presenters who encourage interaction from viewers by referring to the likes of Twitter or Facebook by name would break a French law that forbids secret advertising in broadcasts.

Many broadcasters make use of social networking sites to encourage interaction from viewers. Presenters often ask viewers to 'Follow us on Facebook' or 'Get in touch via Twitter'. These examples and similar practices are now banned in France.

"The return of viewers and listeners to the show page on social networking without mentioning this is informative, while the reference to these pages by naming the relevant social networks is an advertising character who contravenes the provisions of Article 9 of Decree of 27 March 1992 prohibiting surreptitious advertising," the CSA said in a statement, according to an automated translation.

The law says that illegal surreptitious advertising occurs when a "verbal or visual presentation" of a provider of services is made for advertising purposes, according to an automated translation.

The CSA has issued guidance on what French TV and radio presenters should say when seeking to obtain interaction from users on its Twitter or Facebook pages, according to a report by the Associated Press.

"The CSA's press office ... has advised broadcasters to instead use the generic term 'social media' when promoting their online offerings, and refer to Facebook or Twitter only when a report or program merits a specific reference," the Associated Press report said.

“Why do regular promotion for a network that can raise billions of dollars like Facebook and not for another one that has a hard time making itself known?” Christine Kelly, a spokeswoman for the CSA said, according to a report the New York Times.

 “We encourage the use of social networks. It’s not a question of banning,” Kelly said, according to the report.

The CSA ruling means that it will be more difficult for emerging companies to become widely known, Emmanuel Cassimatis, founder of French social networking site, said, according to the BBC.

"It is about finding a balance between freedom and fairness," Cassimatis said, according to a BBC report.

"Each company should have the right to say which communication channel they want to use," Cassimatis said, according to the BBC.

"But 10 or 20 years down the line, we may have a string of lobbies created through those three or four channels that prevent small companies like ours from emerging. This move prevents that." Cassimatis said, according to the BBC.