Senator Lee Rhiannon – Estimates question about SBS broadcast of Eurovision from Tel Aviv

May 23, 2018

Questioned whether SBS should be covering the Eurovision contest in 2019, given that it will be held in Israel.

When you are making your decisions about whether you go ahead with Eurovision, will you be weighing that revenue stream against the impact on Palestinian lives? Is the money going to win out?

Whole interaction with SBS Managing Director Mr Michael Ebeid (Senate Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Communications and the Arts Portfolio)

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about how SBS determines if it will cover Eurovision. Recent events along the Gaza border have shown that the Israeli defence force engages in lethal military actions on days that are seen as significant or when Palestinian-led protests are planned. You would obviously know what I’m referring to there with the tragic events that have occurred in the past few weeks. This means that Eurovision’s 2019 activities could impact on Palestinians. They could actually impact on who lives and who dies. Will SBS consider these factors when it considers whether to participate in next year’s contest or if it’s held in 2020?


Mr Ebeid : Firstly, SBS has been broadcasting Eurovision for 35 years this year. We have been doing it for a long time. I’m not sure if you’d be aware, but the history of Eurovision when it started 62 years ago was all about bringing together European nations after the war. The whole point of Eurovision is to forget politics, forget all of that and unite communities and countries together in the spirit of song, in the spirit of celebration, and in the spirit of culture. So it transcends things like what you’re talking about. That is the essence and the spirit of Eurovision. The fact is that Israel won. Israel has won before. Israel has hosted before. In the spirit of unity and bringing people and cultures together, I can’t imagine that we would not televise Eurovision next year.


Senator RHIANNON: You put great emphasis on bringing it together. But they are only bringing together one country in the Middle East. It’s not Europe. It’s one country in the Middle East. That argument really falls down, does it not?


Mr Ebeid : Well, I don’t think we would be one to speak about that given Australia is not part of Europe and—


Senator RHIANNON: Yes, absolutely.


Mr Ebeid : We are very excited. Israel is not part of Europe either.


Senator RHIANNON: Yes, absolutely.


Mr Ebeid : There are numerous countries that participate in Eurovision that are not part of Europe. Israel is—


Senator RHIANNON: But isn’t it the case that none of those other countries have been invited, that it’s only Israel?


Mr Ebeid : No. There are several other countries.


Senator RHIANNON:No. I mean within the Middle East.


Mr Ebeid : Well, I don’t know if they’ve asked. I can’t answer that question.


Senator RHIANNON: Are you following calls for—


Mr Ebeid : That is a matter for the European Broadcasting Union. It’s not a matter for Australia. We are a participant, a lucky entrant to be invited. I think you are asking me questions that I am happy to put to the European Broadcasting Union if you would like, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to answer those questions.


Senator Fifield: Senator Rhiannon, you might be more a fan of the Intervision Song Contest.


Senator RHIANNON: I like them all, actually. They all have benefits. But I do have a question mark if this one goes ahead.


Senator Fifield: It is the network of eastern European Soviet bloc states.


Senator RHIANNON: Oh, for heaven’s sake. The Cold War’s over. Has SBS been following calls—


Senator Fifield: It was their equivalent of Eurovision.


Senator RHIANNON: Has the SBS been following calls for a boycott of the contest?


Mr Ebeid : Senator, I have certainly not seen any serious boycotts. I know some quarters have talked about it. But, as I say, the European Broadcasting Union is all about uniting people and communities, not dividing them. The Eurovision Song Contest is something that transcends politics. It is not about politics.


Senator RHIANNON: So when you cover the Eurovision Song Contest, you do all that excellent coverage in the weeks—I think it is weeks, actually; it used to be just a week—leading up to it. So if you do go ahead and cover it, will SBS cover the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and Israel along with its coverage of the Eurovision in Jerusalem, if it does go ahead?


Mr Ebeid : I think it’s fair to say that we cover those issues almost every night at the moment on our evening news bulletins. We have had numerous documentaries about the Middle East. I can’t recall an evening in the last two months where we probably haven’t covered the issue nightly on our news bulletins or online. So it’s clearly an ongoing issue. The issues of the Middle East have been going on for well over 60 years. I don’t think the Eurovision Song Contest is going to change that any time soon. We’ll certainly continue to cover the issues of the Middle East in a news and current affairs fashion, as we have been doing, in an excellent way.


Senator RHIANNON: Considering I asked the question very clearly whether you would cover the humanitarian crisis in Palestine and Israel along with the coverage of the Eurovision contest when it’s held and considering the way you answered it, it appears—I don’t want to verbal you; I just want an answer—you are saying no?


Mr Ebeid : No. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. I’m not saying that at all. Let me be very frank. We have only just finished Eurovision. I think it’s fair to say that nobody at SBS has turned their mind to next year yet. It’s a long time away. When we sit down and start doing our planning for Eurovision next year, we’ll take that on board.


Senator RHIANNON: So when you say take it on board, take it on board. It is the most extraordinary situation, where you have snipers lying on the ground and on tops of buildings picking off kids. It is an extraordinary situation. You really need to take it seriously.


Mr Ebeid : Of course we take issues of Middle East news seriously. That goes without saying, I think. It is one of the things we do regularly. Look at any of our major events. With the World Cup in Brazil, we spent a lot of time doing programming in and around Brazil on issues in Brazil and food programs in Brazil. We’re going to do the same with Russia. Last year, when Eurovision was in the Ukraine, we covered topics that were of relevance around issues in the Ukraine. We will probably do the same in the spirit of Eurovision. Our programming will be much lighter, most likely, around celebrating the cultures of Jerusalem, the Palestinians and the Israelis. We’ll look at food programming. We’ll do all of that. We will cover those serious issues that you are referring to in our news and current affairs, not in a Eurovision way. I don’t think that would be appropriate.


Senator RHIANNON: It has been reported that Eurovision brought in $2.5 million. This is at some past Eurovision.


Mr Ebeid : What was that figure, sorry?


Senator RHIANNON: It is $2.5 million.


Mr Ebeid : What is that figure?


Senator RHIANNON: It was reported when I was reading up about some of the past Eurovisions. It has been reported that you brought in $2.5 million in revenue from major brands like Harvey Norman, Renault and AHM Insurance.


Mr Ebeid : We’ve never released figures about what we would get in revenue. That might have been somebody’s estimate. I don’t know what you’re referring to and where that number came from.


Senator RHIANNON: It was just one of the news articles. You obviously bring in a lot of money.


Mr Ebeid : We make sure we try and cover our costs. That is something that SBS always tries to do when we do this.


Senator RHIANNON: Do you make a profit out of it?


Mr Ebeid : I think we cover our costs. If there is a profit, it might be a very modest one but certainly wouldn’t be a big one. Certainly we don’t do Eurovision for a profit, but we always make sure we try and cover our costs, absolutely.


Senator RHIANNON: So do you need to take that on notice? I notice you said, ‘I think it’s a modest profit.’ So do you need to take that on notice so you can tell us what the profit is?


Mr Ebeid : Again, those things are commercial-in-confidence. I would be putting SBS at a disadvantage in giving you program by program revenues and costs. We don’t do that. We run a commercial business that does have to operate in a very competitive market. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to put SBS at a disadvantage.


Senator RHIANNON: No. Absolutely not. I love it. That’s actually one of the reasons I am asking the questions. I think it would be tragic if you get caught up in this. Yes, it has been in Israel before, but it has gone to a whole new level with what has happened in the past few weeks. I was asking a question about the money because you clearly and obviously have a good revenue stream coming from this advertising. When you are making your decisions about whether you go ahead with Eurovision, will you be weighing that revenue stream against the impact on Palestinian lives? Is the money going to win out?


Mr Ebeid : I don’t think we look at our programming that way. Our programming decisions are made for our Australian audiences. We bring in advertisers to help cover the costs of our programming. The impacts on the Palestinian people that you are referring to is a completely separate issue. I’m not sure about conflating the two issues of a song contest with the trials and tribulations of two communities or two cultures. They are very different things.


Senator RHIANNON: With all due respect, it is not trials and tribulations. Gaza is a giant prison now. That’s why the people were protesting there. They have no future. To call it trials and tribulations does not do SBS any credit. It really doesn’t. Thank you.

Link to full Hansard transcript.