Paris - President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday that French rules barring media and social networks from publishing exit polls and early election results ahead of an official embargo were outdated and he would not be surprised if they were broken.
The Paris prosecutor's office warned, however, that it had made special arrangements for police to swoop on any media group that publishes exit polls or early results of Sunday's presidential election before an 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) release.
During the first round of France's 2007 election, the websites of several Swiss and Belgian newspapers crashed under the weight of French web surfers trying to consult them, prompting some to boost their capacity before the 2012 election.
Sarkozy, who is neck-and-neck with Socialist Francois Hollande in opinion polls for Sunday's first-round vote but is trailing ahead of a May 6 runoff, said it was hard to prevent leaks in a world dominated by social media sites.
“This does not shock me because the world has become a village,” he told Europe 1 radio, asked about threats by foreign media and networking sites to break the rules.
“We have rules which are at times outdated, everybody knows that,” Sarkozy told Europe 1. “We can't create a digital frontier between France and all the other countries in the world to prohibit others from communicating with France.”
The ban on releasing partial results before the last polling station is closed is aimed at preventing late voters being swayed in their decision by early news on the voting trend.
France's Poll Commission, which regulates pollsters, plans to outline tougher measures on Friday to enforce the rule and said this week it would not hesitate to sue lawbreakers.
The current punishment for publishing an opinion poll on election day is a 75,000 euro ($98,400) fine. Publishing partial results before the official release time is punishable with a 3,750 euro fine, and candidates can call for a re-vote if they feel that leaks may have swayed late voters.
The Socialist-leaning daily Liberation said in an editorial on Thursday that it also saw the embargo rule as archaic and said readers should look at its website from 6:30 p.m., in a hint it plans to break the rules.
Voters look set to turn their backs on conservative Sarkozy in the two-round vote and usher in France's first left-wing president in 17 years just as fears resurface over Europe's sovereign debt crisis.
Sarkozy, who has said he will quit politics if he loses his re-election battle, also criticised campaign rules that mean television and radio must give equal time to all candidates, meaning fringe contenders with just a couple of percent support get as much air time as mainstream candidates. - Reuters