French TV and radio stations can tweet as much as they like but must stop telling people to consult them on Twitter and Facebook, which amounts to advertising for those sites, France's media regulator says.
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Media usage of mini-messaging via social networking sites has mushroomed with France's frenzied coverage of the arrest of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York on attempted rape charges, but the CSA media industry regulator is warning that such covert advertising is against the law.
"You cannot say 'look us up on Facebook' or 'Look us up on Twitter'. What we advise people to say is: 'Look us up on the social networks' -- because Facebook and Twitter are commercial brands," said CSA spokeswoman Christine Kelly.
Kelly, a former journalist, has explained in several radio interviews this week that covert advertising -- visible or audible references to branded products outside of dedicated advertising periods -- has been banned in France since 1992.
She said radio and TV stations which refer their audiences to Twitter and Facebook by name are breaching that law and risk fines if they fail to comply. They should stick to telling people to check their social networking pages, without referring by name to the two giants in that domain, she said.
The CSA's warning comes as one of France's most widely consulted dictionaries released a new edition that includes the word 'tweet' for the first time in a country that has long been a reluctant importer of English words.
"That makes no difference as far as we're concerned. The word Coca Cola's is there too," said Kelly.
In the days after the May 14 arrest of Strauss-Kahn, formerly the IMF managing director and the man seen as frontrunner to win France's 2012 presidential election, the CSA took French TV stations to task for broadcasting images of him being escorted handcuffed to a New York courthouse.
While legal and commonplace in the United States, such images cannot be broadcast in France ahead of a guilty verdict, due to laws protecting the presumption of innocence.