Beijing (AFP) – The European Broadcasting Union has barred a Chinese video service from airing the Eurovision song contest after it censored semi-final performances with tattoos and a gay-themed dance.
The EBU announced Thursday the termination of its contract with China’s MangoTV, preventing it from broadcasting Thursday’s second semi-final and Saturday’s grand final hosted in Lisbon, Portugal.
MangoTV had edited out a performance by the heavily tattooed Albanian singer Eugent Bushpepa and an Irish entry, which featured a romantic dance sequence by two men, when it aired the show on Wednesday.
MangoTV, which has exclusive rights to telecast the show in China, also blurred out rainbow flags in the audience.
“This is not in line with the EBU’s values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music,” the Eurovision organiser said in a statement.
MangoTV is owned by China’s second most watched channel, state-run Hunan TV, prompting one social media commenter to say “the problem isn’t with the channel, it’s a reflection of the state’s control of speech.”
MangoTV could not be reached for comment.
Hu Yangzi, head of formats and international business at HunanTV, told AFP that he “wasn’t familiar” with the reasons for the edits and that MangoTV “runs its own business”.
LGBT culture remains taboo in China’s entertainment industry where same-sex relationships are banned from television screens and gay content is forbidden on online streaming platforms.
Eurovision has long been popular with gay fans, and rainbow flags are a common sight at the final alongside those of participating nations.
Irish singer Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s performance, which was axed from the Chinese broadcast, made headlines as the first to feature a same-sex couple in Eurovision’s 63-year history.
O’Shaughnessy told the BBC that the EBU’s decision to cut ties with MangoTV was “really important” because “from the very start we have just said love is love.”
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s between two guys and two girls or a guy and a girl.”
Both the Irish and Albanian acts qualified for the final round, which will feature 26 performances.
Chinese fans took to microblogging site Weibo to criticise the censorship. Several said they would stop watching MangoTV.
One pointed out that Chinese censors had not blocked the 2014 Eurovision final when the top prize went to bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst.
It was a sign authorities were getting “more restless with subcultures”, the commenter said.
China’s media watchdog in January banned tattoos and other “decadent” subculture elements from broadcasts, as it cracks down on what it sees as behaviour contrary to the ruling Communist Party’s “values and morals”.