Bowing to the reality of modern technology, Canada today said it is changing a 1938 law that forbids broadcasting election results before polls close. This means no more fines like the one levied in 2000 against a Vancouver man who blogged about election results he obtained by satellite from the eastern part of the country.
The purpose of the news black-out was to ensure that election reports from the east didn’t distort voting intentions in the west. It would be like forcing CNN to hold off reporting on the outcome of New York’s presidential vote until the polls closed in California.
Americans might find the law ridiculous or a free speech violation but the Canadian Supreme Court upheld it in 2007, saying the law had an overall positive effect that justified the speech restrictions. The Vancouver blogger was eventually fined $1,000.
But in recent years the growth of the Internet and especially social media made the law seem increasingly untenable. In recent elections, the Canadian government was in the uncomfortable legal position of having to decide whether to prosecute people who posted election news on Facebook or Twitter. Groups of Canadians also warned they would participate in a tweet-in show of civil disobedience.
The government’s acknowledgement of modern technology was reflected in the way it announced the news today — in a series of tweets by a government minister:
In recent years, the reporting ban also came to seem unnecessary after election officials staggered polling hours so that polls in the west closed only about an hour after those in the east. Canada has six time zones: Pacific, Mountain, Central, Eastern, Atlantic and Newfoundland.