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France agonises over social media in TV

Sometimes events can turn the law into an imprediment and that seems to have happened in France, where a 1992 law prohibiting advertisements or product mentions within news programmes means presenters cannot make use of social media to extend their service. In particular news programmes cannot refer to Twitter for updates on unfolding events, or to their Facebook page, as often happens in other countries, especially the U.S.

Rather than relaxing the law to allow broadcasters to make use of social media to add value to their service and reach people who might not actually watch the news on TV, French TV regulatory agency, the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA), has actually reinforced the rule. The CSA has argued that it is particularly unfair to promote powerful brands like Facebook or Twitter rather some small social media outlet that could do with support. This would imply news presenters should only refer to social media that nobody is using and which would provide little benefit to anybody since the whole success of this medium relies on weight of participation.

Perhaps the French dilemma could be resolved by considering the somewhat related issue of product placement, whereby goods or brands are subliminally displayed in programmes without explicit reference, sometimes even woven into a plot. The European Union (EU) sought to clarify how member states should regulate product placement in its Audiovisual Media Services Directive. France was one of the first to implement this directive in its own national legislation in March 2009, which was ironic because it explicitly states that it only governs products, brands or services shown within the programme in return for payment, and not cases where the placement was inadvertent or incidental.

If the spirit of this directive was extended to allow explicit reference to a brand for some purpose other than fulfilment of a commercial contract, then this would allow newsreaders to mention the big brands of social media.