Ukraine dealt “substantial fine” over Russia Eurovision dispute and organisational delays

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Earlier this week Ukraine’s state broadcaster UA:PBC revealed that it had hired a lawyer after its 15 million euro Eurovision guarantee had been frozen in Geneva.

And on Thursday morning it seemed pretty clear that Ukraine won’t be getting all of that money back, as the European Broadcasting Union announced that Ukraine’s broadcaster will face a serious fine over its ban of the Russian contestant Julia Samoylova and delays in the organisation of this year’s contest.

“As a result of this, attention was drawn away from the competition and the brand reputation of the Eurovision Song Contest was endangered,” the EBU said in a statement.

“Therefore the contest’s steering committee … has recommended that UA:PBC should receive a substantial fine, in line with the rules of the competition.”

Russia’s Julia Samoylova to Billboard: The Eurovision ban hurt me, but I never give up

The steering committee — also known as the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group — did not specify the amount.

However, Zurab Alasania, the head of the Ukrainian broadcaster, has said on television that the fine could be up to 200,000 euros.

The fine is likely based on the country’s participation fee. Members of the Reference Group have told wiwibloggs in the past that Armenia was fined “at least twice or maybe three times its participation fee” in 2016 following the Iveta Mukuchyan flag-waving controversy.

Speaking to Billboard earlier this month, Frank-Dieter Freiling, chairman of the Reference Group, made it clear that Ukraine had not acted according to its earlier guarantees.

“We had a promise in writing and orally from the prime minister down that everyone was welcome at the song contest,” he says. “We were disappointed Ukraine didn’t live up to their word.”

In recent months, Freiling has said that sanctions could range from a financial penalty to a three-year ban from the contest. In handing down a “substantial fine” it seems the committee opted for the middle road.

While the Julia Samoylova controversy has gripped international media in recent months, we should note that Ukraine is also being fined over the significant delays in organising this year’s contest.

It faced a series of organisational challenges and p.r. hiccups, including the resignation of the General Director of the state broadcaster last December; questions over transparency and the potentially illegal awarding of ticketing contracts; the initial refusal to offer fan packages; and mass resignations exactly three months before the grand final.

All of this added up to delays. Speaking to Strana in February, one source said:

“In fact, the schedule of tenders and identification of contractors have been practically derailed. It includes works planned on the main venue, Euroclub, PR, TV production, hotel service, catering etc. In general, there is nothing there yet, even the ticket agent was not chosen, the tender has been cancelled.”

Russia will not be fined

According to the TASS news agency, the EBU has issued Russia’s First Channel with a reprimand for not attending the Heads of Delegation meeting in March and for choosing not to broadcast the live shows.

However, and according to EBU spokesman Dave Goodman, the Reference Group believes that “there should not be any other action now” against Russian TV. That’s because, in their minds, Russia broke the rules owing to the fact “the Russian singer was not allowed access to the competition in Ukraine.”

Earlier this month Freiling said that Russia had played a part in the conflict and had set a “media trap” for its geopolitical rival.

Speaking to Eurovision.de, he said:

“There was a propaganda war between both sides, especially as the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian secret service let themselves get caught in a media trap from the Russian side. In the end, the broadcaster had to decide: go against their own people or against their international partners.”

Russia’s decision to withdraw from Eurovision 2017 — and not to air any of its live shows — left a dent in Eurovision ratings.

Overall viewership fell to 182 million — down from 204 million the year before. For better or worse, that reality may have shielded Russia from any potential ban, just as it may have protected Ukraine from a similar fate. The EBU has to punish misbehaviour, but it also needs to keep viewership up to justify continued investment.

What do you make of the sanctions against Ukraine? Do you think that the figure should be revealed publicly? And do you think that Russia should also have been fined for laying “a media trap”? Let us know in the comments box below. 

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