You might think that French officials would have raised their glasses in celebration of a project to create the first Gallic television channel dedicated to wine. Instead, they appear intent on driving the station into exile, possibly to Britain, after
deciding that it will fall foul of the toughest laws on alcohol promotion outside the Muslim world.
Edonys, a private group which hopes to start broadcasting later this year, has been warned by France's Higher Audiovisual Council that it will
receive authorisation only if it drops plans for programmes featuring wine-tastings and expert discussions. The broadcasting authority deemed these illegal under a law that prohibits all direct or indirect propaganda in favour of alcoholic drinks on television.
However, the station is refusing to amend its schedule and executives are now looking for a base outside France. Britain, Luxembourg and Belgium are among the options.
He said that the station would instead target wine-lovers in Belgium and
other francophone countries with looser regulations. He said that Edonys also intended to start broadcasting English-language programmes for the UK and Northern European countries next year. It is likely to be a pay channel available by cable or
The French wine industry is calling for demonstrations across the country on October 30 to protest recent government and court decisions that would severely limit not only wine advertising, but wine writing.
This year alone, the wine industry has
been hit with these blows:
A French court ruled that newspaper and magazine articles on wine must contain health warnings, in much the same way the United States requires tobacco advertising to include warnings. But remember we're not talking about advertising, but journalism.
That same court ruled that wine and beer cannot be advertised on the Internet.
Proposed new laws will put wine on the same level as pornography by limiting access to wine- and alcohol-related sites only to certain hours, with the
rationale of protecting minors.
The recent court decisions are the latest manifestations of the French Evin Law, which was enacted in 1991 to control the advertising of wine and spirits. The law limited advertising to showing a product, naming the place where it was made, how it was
made and how it should be consumed. It eliminated all references to social or financial success, or to wine as part of any social or domestic scene.
The rationale for the law was the high rate of deaths in France that could be attributed to
alcohol and tobacco abuse. But the recent restrictions betray hostility to any sort of pleasure derived from wine. This, I would think, is about as un-French as you can get.
France may be home to some of the world's finest wines but it could be about to join the tiny club of Muslim states that forbid their promotion on the internet.
Winemakers and other players in the drinks industry are fighting to avert a ban on
advertising, sales and even vineyard websites that has been looming ever since a court ruled that the internet should be included in France's strict laws regarding alcohol advertising.
The Heineken beer company was forced by the ruling last
February to block French access to its corporate site. Since then, some of the biggest drinks brands have shut out French visitors for fear of prosecution. Today in France, the sight of a bottle of wine has become as offensive as a picture of war or
pornography, said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for CIVC, the industry body of champagne producers.
The industry complains that it is being demonised and that an internet ban would penalise hugely one of the glories of the French economy and the
national heritage. A click from France on Courvoisier cognac, for example, elicits the message: Sorry, the regulations of your country do not authorise us to give you access to our site.
Even the alcohol-fuelled world of sport has not been
left unscathed. When Liverpool played Marseilles in this week's Champions League match, the logo of Carlsberg, the team's main sponsor, was absent from their shirts, while rugby union's Heineken Cup is simply called the European Rugby trophy in France.
Frédéric Delesque, the marketing director of Camus Cognac, which has also bowed to the law and blocks French visitors said: There are three countries in the world which ban the discussion of alcohol: Iran, Afghanistan and
France. It is a pity for the image of our products.
The Evin law, passed in 1991, limits the advertising of alcoholic drinks only to the press, the radio and on posters. Since the world wide web did not exist then, it is not approved for
drink advertising. The court upheld that argument in the Heineken case, but added that it should be clarified.
The world of alcohol fears that the inevitable jokes produced by the country's comedians are a little too close to reality. Will it
soon be illegal, for example, to mention such place names as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne or Cognac in public?