French wine sector hits back at government

Wednesday, 10. September 2008 - 13:00

by Sophie Kevany

The French wine sector has accused the French government of ‘legal injustice’ over the banning of alcohol promotion on the Internet. Wine producer unions from across the country have created two hard-hitting images in support of their argument and have written a strong letter of protest which will be sent to the government this week.

"Contrary to promises by the president, the government is ignoring the legal injustice to the wine sector,” states the text of the letter.

The letter also accuses the Ministers of Health and Agriculture of taking no decision regarding ‘this catastrophic legal deadlock’.

Recent court cases have interpreted France’s 1991 Evin Law to mean that alcohol should not be advertised on the Internet, as this media did not exist when the original law was drawn up. In January 2008, for example, a French appeals court ruled that the brewer Heineken had to remove all advertising from its French website, or face fines of €3,000 per day. The site has since been closed down. This came hard on the heels of a December 2007 ruling by a Paris county court which found that a newspaper article making critical recommendations about Champagnes constituted advertising.

"We are sensitive to the problems of alcohol abuse, and we are not looking for total liberty [to advertise wine], but we are asking for the same limited rights on the web, as we have in the press,” said Marie Christine Tarby, President of Vin et Société, the organisation behind both the letter and the new images.

The images, the first of which shows a bottle of wine wrapped in barbed wire with the words, ‘Danger, talking about this bottle can have you condemned’, are being used to heighten awareness of the situation.

The second - aimed at hammering home the fact that under current French law, simply mentioning the word wine, or a particular wine, constitutes publicity - shows a man reading a paper. Much of the text is blacked out however, and the tagline underneath reads, ‘The lack of definition of the word publicity is dangerous to freedom of expression’.

In another example of how strictly French law on alcohol advertising is currently being interpreted, it is reported that the French post office, La Poste, has refused to print a stamp showing a woman with grapes for earrings, holding a glass of wine. La Poste allows people to create personalised stamps using their own images, but, despite filling one order for the stamps, a second one was refused.

"The gangrene of self censorship is setting in,” said Tarby, commenting on the refusal.