FYR Macedonia: MRT’s mounting debts raise questions about Eurovision 2018 participation

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In September Macedonian broadcaster MRT confirmed its intentions to return to the Eurovision Song Contest 2018.

But on Thursday it emerged that the European Broadcasting Union would impose sanctions on FYR Macedonia owing to its existing debts both at home and abroad.

Citing an anonymous source within MRT’s Program Council, Macedonia’s Meta news agency reports that the debt amounts to at least 500,000 euros.

But that number could be far higher, as the news agency goes on to say that MRT’s total debt to “domestic and foreign trustees” amounts to nearly 22 million euros. Those owed money have not yet sounded the alarm, but the EBU is poised to impose sanctions.

Claire Rainford, the EBU’s Senior Communications Officer, issued a clear and direct statement on the matter.

“Unfortunately, Macedonian Radio-Television no longer has access to our services until it pays off its debt.”

Meta‘s source describe the sanctions as “catastrophic,” adding that state television “will not be able to broadcast the programs of any of EBU’s members, or sports matches, films, foreign shows, cartoons, or documentaries.”

In the opening sentence of their report, they make it clear that this could include the Eurovision Song Contest.

Déjà vu? Romania’s exclusion from Eurovision 2016

Naturally some fans are worried this could lead to exclusion from the contest.

In April 2016, just weeks before Eurovision, the European Broadcasting Union confirmed that it had withdrawn member services from Romanian public service broadcaster Televiziunea Romana (TVR) over unpaid debts.

That meant that Ovidiu Anton — who had spent weeks traveling Europe as part of his promotional campaign for Eurovision — could not compete at the contest.

The Romanian broadcaster had accumulated debts of over 14.5 million euros since 2007. Since 2010, the EBU had attempted to restructure the debt, but the broadcaster had not yet made the payments. The EBU said they had written to the Romanian government four times that year, without any response.

The EBU gave the Romanian finance minister a final deadline of 20 April, extended to 21 April, requiring a down payment of 10 million Swiss franc (9 million euro). After the broadcaster did not respond, the EBU made the decision to withdraw member privileges.

In a statement, the EBU explained:

“TVR will now no longer be able to participate in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest and will lose access to other EBU member services including the Eurovision News and Sports News Exchanges, the right to broadcast specific sporting events, legal, technical and research expertise and lobbying services.”

Romania has subsequently paid off its debts and rejoined the Eurovision family.

We’re crossing our fingers and retaining hope that the Land of Kaliopi will sort out its finances soon. The early and very public nature of this debt spat suggests that MRT has the time — and sufficient reason — to find a solution long before Eurovision. 

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