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Netanyahu says government won’t meddle with Eurovision production

A couple takes a picture in front of a banner advertising the Eurovision Song Contest Friday, May 4 2018, at Lisbon's Rossio Square. The Eurovision final will be held in Lisbon May 12
AP Photo/Armando Franca

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will not interfere in programming of the 2019 Eurovision song contest after concerns mounted that the event was becoming increasingly politicized.

“The government will act according to European Broadcasting Union rules,” the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed, referring to the broadcasting platform of 56 countries that organizes the Eurovision competition.

According to a report published by Hadashot news the day before, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev was said to have demanded government involvement in the production of the participating acts introductory segments with an eye to giving it an Israel focus. Hadashot cited a lack of mistrust between Israel’s Kan public broadcaster and Regev.

Regev’s spokesperson responded in a statement saying: “The minister has clarified her personal stance on the matter — the Eurovision competition is an opportunity to express the beautiful and diverse Israeli society, in the form of segments broadcast between the songs in the competition.”

However, the EBU sent a letter on Monday warning that if the public Kan broadcaster was split into an entertainment division and a separate news body - as was announced last week by the government - then Israel could lose its eligibility to host next year’s event.

The Marker, a financial news website, published the EBU letter sent by chief Noel Curran to Kan chairman Gil Omer and director general Eldad Koblenz.

Francisco LEONG (AFP/File)

“As you know IPBC currently has interim membership status (giving entitlement to all rights and obligations of the EBU] within the EBU,” the letter wrote referring to ‘Israel’s Public Broadcasting Agency’ known as ‘Kan.’

“We are not aware of any PSM organization that operates the news in a totally separate entity with a separate governance,” the letter continued.

If the Supreme Court was to follow through with the decision to divide the channel, “the EBU may have reservations about membership on that basis and a new application will be required,” the letter added.

Responding to the comments by the EBU following a meeting attended by Netanyahu, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Regev and others the PMO’s office said “there were still pending legal matters.”

“The prime minister ordered the legal aspects of this topic be examined with the relevant parties before making a decision,” his office added regarding the Kan’s division.

The contest set to be held in Israel next year after Netta Barzilai won the 2018 competition with her catchy song “Toy”, has become increasingly politicized.

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Earlier this month the firebrand culture minister threatened to eschew Israel’s right to hosting the contest if it could not be held in Jerusalem. "I will recommend to the government that if the Eurovision is not in Jerusalem, then it wouldn’t be right to host it," Regev told Kan.

It will cost Israel NIS 50 million ($14 million) and is designed to market the country. So I personally say, if the Eurovision won’t be held in Jerusalem, it’s not right to invest the NIS 50 million in public funds," she said.

Her remarks came a day after Argentina’s decision to scrap a planned soccer match against the Israeli national team set to be held in Jerusalem, following a barrage of pressure from Palestinians claiming by holding it in the contested holy city politicized the event.

Following the sports-match controversy, according to a separate report by Channel 20 news station, the Israeli government said it would abandon its push for Jerusalem as the 2019 Eurovision host city due to similar fears of politicization.

Netanyahu, held a joint telephone conversation with ministers in which the decision for the government to back down on its Jerusalem demands was made.

Four cities - Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat - are said to be pitching for the hosting privilege.

“Your politicians are creating problems for us because they are highlighting it and turning it into a political issue,” the EBU said.

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