Tuesday 24 July 2012

It's not about the money, money, money...

Oh dear. The cat is out of the bag. The BBC have revealed how much it cost for the UK to enter Eurovision this year. £310,000. The British media can always be trusted to report in a balanced manner of course. Hmm. The Daily Mail and The Mirror led with the "story" yesterday. You can almost hear the letters of complaint being written in haste to Auntie Beeb from Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. The Mirror even showed a deep analysis of the spending and divided this lump sum by the amount of television hours that the BBC had by screening the semi finals and grand finale. "The cost to licence fee payers works out at around £45,000-an-hour". Thank goodness that they're keeping watch! Funnily enough - they didn't report another fact, that it costs just 1.2 pence per licence payer. That doesn't sound as exciting as £45K does it?

Such coverage is yet another example of the cynical  and dismissive British attitude towards Eurovision.  Much was made of the fact that Engelbert Humperdinck finished in second last place. Does that mean that the amount spent and the value for money is only proportional to the UK placing on the scoreboard? That screams sore loser to me! Is the money really that much? Well since the articles in question do not provide a point of reference, most readers will probably have read them and been outraged at such vast amounts of money being spent in the midst of a global financial crisis. However the BBC are right, is IS extremely good value for money. A single episode of Dr Who is said to cost well over £1 million and just one hour of Strictly Come Dancing waltzes in at a whopping £370,000. Are there calls to cancel these shows? No. They are popular with viewers and so too is Eurovision. The Song Contest as a whole isn't cheap but it's international, primetime television so when it's broken down, like The Mirror so cleverly did, it is actually not so frivolous after all. 

Eurovision has also reflected a lot of the wider austerity going on in the rest of Europe. Long gone are the days of lavish parties and freebies paid for by national television stations. If countries do treat delegates to a party or a promo CD, the funding comes from sponsors and private donors, not the public purse. 2013 is rumoured to be on a smaller scale and the EBU stated in the 2012 press conference in Baku that the contest has become too large and too expensive. Should the BBC host Eurovision again I dare say that the costs will be scrutinised, just like they are with the Olympics. Of course this should be the case, they're a national broadcaster funded by the public. However, in the bigger picture of international, primetime broadcasting, these costs are not excessive. No broadcaster could afford to buy the amount of global airtime that hosting and taking part in Eurovision offers. It seems like it was yet another slow news day on Fleet Street and for the Daily Mail, yet another excuse to attack Auntie Beeb.

Thursday 5 July 2012

It's going to be a hot summer...

Well certainly not in terms of the weather that's for sure!

After the dust has settled on Eurovision 2012 it appears that the authorities in Azerbaijan are starting to take action against those pesky human rights campaigners who were part of the Sing for Democracy campaign back in May. After the contest, Ali Hasanov, released a statement condemning those who had been involved in several peaceful protests during the run-up to Eurovision in Baku. "Such people shouldn't feel they can dare to go out in the city; they should feel ashamed". Hasanov had previously stated that there would be no retaliation against protestors, something which seemed to appease the EBU at least. However this seems to be nothing more than lip-service, as expected. On 13 June Mehman Huseynov, media coordinator of the Sing for Democracy campaign, was arrested and detained for "acts of hooliganism" (didn't the authorities pay attention to the antics of many Euro fans during the week??) Whilst Huseynov has now been released, he faces a criminal case which could see him serving a lengthy prison sentence. Meanwhile journalists who criticise the government continue to be arrested. It's situations like this that remind me personally that we are very lucky in the UK (and other countries) to live in a society free from fear of persecution and intimidation. Sing for Democracy were, in my opinion, fine ambassadors for Azerbaijan. The people I spoke with were eloquent, informed and more importantly, used peaceful means to spread their message. As far as protesters go, they could teach our lot a thing or two about dignity!

Does all this mean that Eurovision should never have been in Azerbaijan? Not quite. For the first time ever a huge spotlight shone on Azerbaijan's human rights record. This was specifically because of Eurovision. The contest allowed the pro-reform protesters a voice and a platform. For civil society in a young democracy this is surely a good thing. It's saddening to hear that those who worked so hard to raise awareness of the situation in Azerbaijan are now facing repercussions. However I genuinely hope that the seeds of change have been planted and that maybe Eurovision did have a positive impact in terms of raising awareness and opening a dialogue in the country. There were calls for the boycott of Eurovision this year. This sort of misses the point. The EBU is not a political organisation and amongst the list of members are countries which have a dubious record on human rights at best. The time for questioning Azerbaijan's eligibility to be a part of Eurovision was back in 2008 when the country joined the contest. It'll certainly be a tricky time for the EBU should Belarus win in future! 

Sing for Democracy made major strides in those few weeks in the run-up to the contest. Baku may have lost out on the 2020 Olympic bid but I dare say that there will be other opportunities for that spotlight to shine in the future. The everyday people I met in Baku were absolutely delightful, for that reason alone, 2012 could quite possibly be my favourite Eurovision ever and I hope for their sake that basic human rights are upheld in Azerbaijan in future. 

In other news (or not news as the case may be) in June the Daily Mail reported that the BBC were embroiled in a "Eurovision race row" and that several "senior figures" connected to a number of previous UK entrants had gone on the record to state that they thought racism was a factor in Britain's recent flops at Eurovision and that the UK should withdraw from the competition altogether. The (poorly written) article alluded to racism behind the scenes of the contest itself. If racism is alive and well at Eurovision then how did Estonia win in 2001 with a black singer? How did the UK finish second in 1998 with Imaani (the first black UK representative)? How did the Netherlands end up in fourth place that year? How did Sweden's Loreen, who has Moroccan heritage and performed with a black dancer, storm to victory in 2012? 

Only this week Andrew Lloyd-Webber waded into the row by stating that the UK was the victim of racism in 2009. His argument holds no water. Jade Ewen came 5th out of a field of 42 in 2009, our strongest showing in the best part of a decade. Her placing can hardly be seen as a failure and she received votes from both East and West. Lloyd-Webber's comments personify and embody all that is wrong with the British attitude towards Eurovision. Why do we arrograntly assume that we are the best? Andy Abraham had a very weak song in 2008 and was rewarded with just 14 points for it. The UK public didn't buy the single either. Like Josh Dubovie in 2010, Jade Ewen in 2009 and Engelbert this year, if the British public can't get behind the song then how can we expect our cousins on the continent to vote for it? We shouldn't be so arrogant to assume that it must be someone else's fault, that we deserve to do well just for showing up. Maybe, just maybe, the likes of Javine and Andy Abraham just weren't good enough. Quite frankly Lloyd-Webber was lucky to finish 5th with such a bland, clich├ęd and repetitive song! Jade Ewen, a fantastic singer and wonderful ambassador for the UK, deserved better. 

Such reporting and blanket statements from unnamed sources do not add anything to a serious debate on a pertinent issue. On the one hand it could be argued that overt racism does appear to be a major problem, perhaps more so in the East, if recent concerns over Euro 2012 are anything to go by. Certainly Gaitana, the Ukrainian singer in 2012 faced racism from her own politicians when one minister stated that she shouldn't performing in Eurovision because she failed to represent "organic Ukrainian culture". However TV bosses stood firm and Gaitana represented her country with the anthemic, "Be My Guest". Her selection as the face of Ukraine at Eurovision was certainly an interesting one in the year that racism in Ukraine was in the spotlight as a result of the country hosting Euro 2012. In a field of 42, Gaitana finished 15th. Is this racism? I doubt it. Something like this can never really be proven which is the difficulty in having a sensible debate about it.

The article from the Daily Mail and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's comments have merely turned something which wasn't news (it only appeared because it was a slow news day) into something which is even less than a storm in a teacup. If anything, rather than racism, it screams of good old-fashioned sour grapes to me.