Kazakh broadcaster Channel 31 has been refused entry to the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, but Australia’s participation in the Eurovision seems to have come full circle, with the announcement by SBS that Jessica Mauboy - she of the 2014 interval act introducing Australia to the Eurovision - will be the 2018 representative of the so-called guest country to Europe’s 'favourite television programme'.
Some things, it seems, are treated as untouchable when it comes to Eurovision fandom. You must be gay - or at least a little bit poofy - to want to watch the show. You have to make sure that all songs are “fabulous". If you write about the show online, you can’t openly criticise broadcasters (or the EBU) lest your accreditation gets taken away, and most of all you dare not have a contrary opinion about Australia being in the contest.
Fellow scribe Roy D Hacksaw says he’s straight (he’ll kill me for that), and that not everything is fabulous. He adds that if the EBU should want to stop messing with the contest any time soon that would be OK and ... that Australia do not deserve a place in this contest.
I also don’t think they should be in this contest.
But why Mr Phil?
Now before a significant minority of you start a letter-writing campaign (or whatever the equivalent is on the internets this week), it's not because of the fanbase. They have a large vocal contingent that has been very visible over the years leading up to 2015 and, of course, if we are to ensure the survival of the contest then we must include all fans from wherever they might be. It’s not because of the quality of the songs because 'Tonight Again' and 'Sound of Silence' were quality songs worth every televote and jury score they got. However, SBS were possibly let down by Issiah and his narcissistic staging, and the fact he actually was quite a poor live singer.
It’s a combination of things that lead me to this seemingly contrary opinion.
My first is a very obvious one, it's in the name of the organisers – the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Despite the fact that SBS is an associate member (and pays to get everything that comes with membership), they do not - despite what certain sections of the media would have you believe - belong in the European Broadcasting Area. “Does that matter in the age of satellites?” someone challenged me on Twitter just the other day.
Well, yes. Actually it does.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has strictly defined broadcast areas and the last time I looked, Australia’s tectonic plate had not shifted into a rectangular area that stretches from east of Iceland to the Caucasus and down to the countries that touch the Med (hello Israel).
This is the very same set of rules that the EBU say deny Kazakhstan entry to Eurovision. Rules they choose not to apply for Australia. Why? Because the EBU needed to create a set of circumstances that allowed them to invite Australia in.
That’s my second problem. The rules on admittance to the contest are boring. Prior to 2006 you had to be an active EBU member. This is something that Australia and Kazakhstan can never be, and so the EBU decided to “exempt” one of them on a yearly basis.
You might have seen us refer to rule 1.1.1 from time to time. It was the paragraph that told you how to be in it.
People only discovered the EBU had been making exemptions when I asked their communications chief (via Twitter) at the backend of 2015, exactly how Australia were getting in. Otherwise, it would have likely remained a secret. For 2018, the rules have changed again. Now, it seems, the EBU can invite “guest” countries to participate at will. And no, this does NOT mean China, or the USA, or Mozambique ... what it actually means is Australia.
So why did the EBU shift its stance? It could be argued that it's down to sites like this one understanding the rules better than the EBU and asking questions. More likely, though, it’s a mix of money and legacy.
It's all about the money then?
History records that a couple of countries have been caught handing out brown envelopes in exchange for votes. It's easy to argue that Australia being in the contest follows this tradition. My sources - who I trust - tell me that while SBS puts its name to the Australian Eurovision entry, it's a commercial record company that has been pushing for - and providing all the backing.
Which record company backs the four singers who've flown the Australian flag at Eurovision to date? Sony Music. How can a minority Australian broadcaster kept afloat by government money (to the tune of $A281 million a year) afford to send a singer half way around the world? Simple, they get 'help' with the bill. €420,000 has been quoted to me as how much Sony's Germany parent company bankroll each Aussie entry.
SBS are onto a winner. They fulfil a quota by airing a show aimed at European ex-pats for little (or no) cost, by spinning the yarn that after 30 years of supporting Eurovision, it was time they entered. What does Kazakhstan have to offer by comparison?
What are the EBU doing?
The reality is much simpler. It doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to surmise that Sony Germany paid their way in. The company knew that the EBU wanted to expand the contest, and would fall over itself to get its hands on some more lovely loot ... especially from a record company housed in a Big 5 country. One that was doing pretty shoddily in the contest. How European could you get?
For their part, the EBU got to claim that Australia being involved expanded the contest reach and current head honcho - Jon Ola Sand - could cement his legacy as having “done something”.
For their part, Sony Germany got two cracks at winning. Not to mention two record-buying markets to lap up their product. Australian SBS enjoyed a (virtually) zero-cost show that helped support their public service remit, and as a bonus the so-called fans went into raptures. It all seemed rosy.
The Kazakhs who, arguably, have more European in them were left out in the cold.
It’s not rosy. It's murky, and it smells rotten.
If the EBU is serious about getting countries back in the contest, why haven’t discussions about Turkey coming back been made public? Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) had actually been in the contest since 1975. Great swathes of the country lie in actual Europe its diaspora spreads across Europe. Why then hasn't the EBU (in public at least) been begging them (and others) to come back, instead of turning their back and coveting Australia?
So whats the deal then?
I still can’t work out why Australia are actually in the contest. Is it for money? In all honesty, despite it looking bung-like,€420,000 is a mere drop in the funding ocean.
Is it for ratings? 541,000 Aussies watched live and 1.1 million on tape-delayed prime time coverage: 3 million viewers out of the reported 184 million worldwide.
Is it what the fans want? Surely, they simply want a good contest with a bit of glitz and glam. Do they have a glittergasm 'cos Australia are the forgotten land? No, that’s Turkey and Bosnia and Slovakia and Luxembourg – all of which had entries when the contest was younger.
There is no rational explanation.
Then it came to me - and it was all so simple - it could be Sony Music who has the upper hand in this unequal relationship. And they look to have had it for some time.
Sony threatened to boycott the Melodifestival over rights issues in 2014/15. That problem quietly went away. Sony could promote the Eurovision all over the world if they had a foothold ... and what better foothold to have than in a country that has no preconceptions about the contest and an audience willing to gobble up content. If only they could court favour with someone who has openly declared a wish to make Eurovision bigger. How about a world song contest? What better platform could there be?
What can the Kazakhs offer in comparison?
Is the contest in the wrong hands? Has Australia been let in under false pretences? Am I just talking the shits?
I'd love to know your thoughts.