France Late For First Round of Presidential Elections as Swiss and Belgian Media Break the News First

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Socialist party candidate Francois Hollande and President Nicolas Sarkozy will head to second round on May 6th.

The French are known for their stereotypical lateness and the country was even fashionably late for the first round of its own presidential elections on Sunday night, as Belgian and Swiss media leaked the results before French law permitted its own media to make the official announcement.

French voters headed to the polls on Sunday to cast their ballots for the first round of the country’s presidential elections that saw current president Nicolas Sarkozy and French social candidate Francois Hollande graduate to the next and final round. Round two will end on May 6th to determine whether or not it would be a “oui” or a “non” to see Sarkozy in office for another term. 

All of France’s main networks including TF1, M6, Canal Plus and France Televisions covered the Sunday night voting with special programming as did news cable networks BFMTV, France 24 and i-Tele.

Traditional French law doesn’t allow the 10 candidates in the first round to give speeches, conduct interviews or talk about their campaign in any form in the media – Twitter and Facebook included –  until the polls close at 8 PM on Sunday night. However, French law couldn’t control media groups in nearby Belgium and Switzerland who released the info on the web earlier Sunday evening, around 6:30 PM.

Even days before the vote, the threat of neighboring online media releasing the info ahead of France stirred up a national debate over whether the laws are outdated or, in fact, necessary for French democracy. French authorities fear that Tweets may disrupt the elections this year, and French tweeters have been using code words with hash signs to discuss the major national event since anyone publishing early results could be fined up to $99,000.

Belgian media Le Soir, RTBF and La Libre Belgique announced the results on their websites and 20 and La Radio Television Suisse in Switzerland broke the news on their side of the border.

French newspaper Liberation had announced that they wouldn’t respect the law and announced the results at 6:30 PM, then posted a note on their site saying that though they’d planned a “rendez-vous” with their readers at 6:30, they hadn’t received the information at that time. They also added that the risk for a press company publishing the info ahead of time could run up to 375,000 euros “not to mention the economic, real and serious consequences that would weaken Liberation” that they called “disproportionate to an information that would be made public anyway at 8 PM.”

While most of the country tunes to TV coverage per tradition, the internet has become a driving force in the country. 75% of people are web surfers and 25 million have Facebook accounts. The French have their next political rendez-vous on May 6th when the country will discover which candidate they “like” the most.