Innocent broadcasters taken hostage by desperate EBU

7, 8, 9. The referee was almost knocked out, when he, with a new set of rules, got back on his feet. Despite the combatants having left the ring, he is however not on very solid ground. It appears like the EBU hasn’t thought well enough about the possible impact of these rules.

Do you remember the boxing match between this year’s host country Ukraine and neighbouring Russia in the spring? Most probably you do as it affected the preparations up to the 2017 contest and the actual event to such an extent that Russia was unable to take part in the contest.

After several rounds, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) stepped in as referee. It was a position they didn’t actually want, and, instead of judging in the fight, the referee ended up almost knocking himself out. That was in round four.

Round 5

We left the match with both combatants leaving the ring, and the referee down on the floor. As they left, he got back on his feet, but was clearly still affected by the punch he gave himself. He issued a fine of 200,000 euros to the Ukrainian broadcaster – and let the Russian go. After all, according to the rules, it was only Ukraine who had done something wrong.

Despite threats of banning Ukraine from the Eurovision Song Contest – for up to three years – the country can however participate again in 2018, if they want to. The Ukrainian broadcaster however want to be totally cleared of any wrong-doing so they appealed the fine. We are yet to hear the outcome of that.

Round 6

German broadcaster ARD publish a new set of rules for the 2018 contest. Though it isn’t yet made available by the EBU, we take it that the changes they highlight are correct.

The new rules clearly state that the host country must allow the selected participants to take part in the contest. In other words, they can’t behave as Ukraine did – and was fined for.

The Host Broadcaster shall ensure that all the contestants selected by the Participating Broadcasters are able to perform in person live on stage in the Shows (including in all the rehearsals and in the Dress Rehearsals).

But just as you think things are pretty clear, and that Ukraine was solely to blame for this year’s farce as they denied the Russian participant Julia Samojlova entry to the country, the EBU takes a new turn. Now the rules also state that the participating countries must not select an artist or any delegation member that would give grounds for the host broadcaster to deny them entry! With those rules, Russia wouldn’t have been allowed to select Julia, and as such, they are to be blamed, and not Ukraine.

in particular, no selected artist nor any member of the Delegation shall have any antecedents likely to prompt the Host Country’s national authorities to deny them access to the Host Country in accordance with applicable national law.

It seems clear that the EBU, with these rules, would try to give and take a bit from and to each side in ‘the Ukraine – Russia situation’. But what might seem like a fair solution, raises a lot of issues.

Potential damaging issues

There are several problems with the rule that makes it a broadcaster’s responsibility to make sure that their participant and any other member of their delegation won’t be denied access to the host country. We’ll look at a few of the issues here:

HIV infected

Oikotimes raised the question about HIV infected people. We looked into it, and found two participating countries, Hungary and Russia not allowing people with this infection to enter the country, so that is a valid concern. In many countries, this is a very private matter and not something that one is obliged by law to tell anyone about – in some countries, you must tell your sexual partners, but your employer does not have the right to know.

According to the new rules, this could mean that anyone who wishes to take part in a national selection, or to be involved with the contest in other ways like, for example, as commentator or press, has to inform the broadcaster about their HIV status. This goes directly against the law in many of the participating countries.

The way is furthermore open for several law suits for being forced to give out personal information, which is protected by law. What happens then? Can the EBU eventually be sued, or only the broadcaster? We don’t know as the rules didn’t take that situation into consideration.

Internal selection instead of national final

It will be a heavy burden for the broadcasters to check if all participants who submit an entry for a national final are clear of anything that could lead to the host country to deny them entry. Imagine being a broadcaster who gets more than 2,500 potential entries, of which you need to select maybe 10, 20 or even 50 artists for the various qualification heats – and, having already enough to deal with, just to make sure your own staff is clear.

Smaller countries with fewer resources might see themselves forced to go for an internal selection rather than a national selection with various heats. You can’t blame them as clearing one act is a lot easier than clearing 51 acts like in the case of Lithuania’s 2017 selection.

Extra resources usually mean an extra expense for the broadcasters. In particular, for the countries with a rather large selection, it can be quite expensive to clear all potential candidates every year.

Host broadcaster can influence the charts in participating countries

Another issue that can be raised is the potential influence the laws in the host country can have on the charts and radio airplay in various participating countries.

Take a country like Sweden. In the months around their national selection, Melodifestivalen, their national charts are very much dominated by the 28 acts (2017 selection format) who take part in the national selection. Is it fair that laws in another country can have such a big influence on who makes it to the charts in, for example, Sweden?

A shorter national selection might be required

It is not defined in the rules whether each broadcaster is obligated to check up on the rules of the host country themselves or if EBU might provide them with that and a form of black list of certain individuals. No matter what, time could be another issue.

Many broadcasters have already started their search for the 2018 selection. They did so, probably not knowing of any Portuguese law that might influence who can take part in the national selection with the intent to participate at the Eurovision Song Contest if they win.

For the broadcasters to have enough time to check up on these things, or wait for a set of rules to be provided, they might need to postpone certain things in their selection. We have before seen shows already starting in Autumn. That might not be possible in the future if it takes too much time to look into the laws of the host country.

No fixed date and no consistency

One of the main things that makes it rather easy for the broadcasters to commit to the Eurovision Song Contest is a set of rules that rarely change significantly. Now, it will potentially change a lot every year as rules in the host country change – and a list of people forbidden to enter the country can be updated from day-to-day – and the EBU has not even set a date for at what time you need to be allowed to enter.

Imagine the situation where the Netherlands selects an artist internally, screen him or her to match the law of next year’s host country Portugal and present their choice to the public in November 2017. Everything might be fine at that point, but, if Portugal changes their law we might see that the Dutch artist from April 2018, can’t enter the host country anymore. What happens then?

As the participating countries officially submit their entries on the HoD meeting in late March or early April, the EBU might set this date as to when people need to be cleared in relation to any restrictions from the host broadcaster. Will they then force the host broadcaster not to have any new laws come into effect from then until after Eurovision? Can they even do that as they can’t exactly threaten to take their hosting rights away just a few weeks before it all starts?

We don’t know as the rules didn’t take that situation into consideration either.

There will be no longer any consistency as the rules of the up to 46 participating countries are very different, and there is no fixed date you can relate to.

A weaker referee

The power of the host broadcaster has been increased with these new rules, whereas the EBU decreases its own strength.  At first, it might seem like they are getting stronger from this, but you usually don’t get stronger by running away from the problems. That’s exactly what the EBU is doing here – run away, try to hide in a corner hoping to be invisible.

Can they, as referee, stand another round in the boxing ring? Probably not unfortunately.

With the potential issues raised above, this set of rules could cause even more problems. Yes, it might, more or less, indicate that, if the 2017 ‘Ukraine – Russia case’ were to appear under these rules, Russia would be the bad guy for selecting Julia, and not Ukraine. However, the potential new cases this could lead to might be worse.

It was a weak referee who almost knocked himself out in an attempt to convince Ukraine to accept Julia Samojlova representing Russia this year. With even less power in the future, what is he supposed to do? Yes, something needs to be done to avoid a conflict like the one this year, but why open up for a lot more?

Under pressure, we can all jump to conclusions and actions we wouldn’t make when thinking clearly. As the EBU was down on the floor, it might seem understandable that they come with this. We can only hope that they soon realise that the new rules, as presented by ARD, need some improvement.

This reflection article is based on the author's own personal experience. Views expressed belongs to him or her, and are to be seen as unrelated to

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