The European Broadcasting Union has torn up its contract with a leading Chinese broadcaster which held the rights to air this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

The dramatic move by the EBU followed the Chinese broadcaster's decision to censor two performances in the competition's first semi-final earlier this week.

The first was Mall, performed by Albania's Eugent Bushpepa, which featured performers with tattoos. Chinese television has restrictions over the display and prominence of tattoos.

The second was Together, performed by Ireland's Ryan O'Shaughnessy, which is a love song about a same-sex relationship; the stage performance also features two male dancers.

Both performances were censored from the broadcast of the first semi-final by Mango TV, a web-based Chinese platform with more than 40 million viewers.


According to reports, the broadcaster also censored rainbow flags which could be seen in the audience.

As a result the EBU confirmed on Friday the broadcast rights agreement with Mango TV had been terminated.

The semi-finalists, including Australia, advancing to the grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Photo: Andres Putting

The termination means the planned Chinese telecast of the second semi-final did not proceed as scheduled and that Mango TV would be unable to broadcast this weekend's Eurovision grand final.

"[The censoring of the two performances] is not in line with the EBUs values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music," the EBU said in a statement.

"It is with regret that we will therefore immediately be terminating our partnership with the broadcaster," the statement said.

Both Albania and Ireland were successful in reaching Sunday's grand final, meaning that both songs would again be performed in the telecast, risking a repeat of the censorship of the semi-final.

It is understood Mango TV could not provide the EBU with an undertaking that the performances would not be censored for a second time.

The EBU also anticipated problems with one of the grand final acts, Italy's Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro, which also features tattoos.

Fans posted images on social media confirming that the censorship extended as far as blurring the names of the offending countries – Albania and Ireland – from the competition's leaderboard in the final scoring segment of the semi-final telecast.

That in itself is perhaps the biggest of China's diplomatic blunders; while Eurovision fans famously embrace inclusion, they also revere few things as much as the competition's much-loved, if slightly antique, scoreboard.

Such censorship is perhaps unsurprising from a country which has a history of media censorship. But the severity of the ban is surprising given the perceived value of expanding the Eurovision brand into Asia broadly and into China specifically.

Though it has not yet transpired, there has been a prevailing sense behind the scenes that China would be the next country the EBU would invite into the European song competition, following the template established by Australia in 2015.

It is also unclear how the ban affects the planned Eurovision Asia Song Contest in which China is expected to participate.

In addition to China and Australia, the first edition of that contest is expected to include Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea and Vanuatu.

Though no official date has been set, reports suggest the Eurovision Asia Song Contest could launch as early as October.

Mango TV has not commented on the ban.

Ireland's Eurovision entrant Ryan O'Shaughnessy said the decision to ban the Chinese broadcaster was a positive one.

"From the very start we've just said, 'love is love, doesn't matter if it's between two guys, two girls, or a guy and a girl'," O'Shaughnessy said.

The Eurovision Song Contest commands a global television audience of around 180 million.

SBS will air the grand final of the 63rd annual Eurovision Song Contest live on Sunday at 5am and repeated in prime time at 7.30pm.

The journalist travelled to Lisbon courtesy of SBS.

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Michael Idato

Michael Idato is a Senior Writer based in Los Angeles for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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