San Marino RTV has refuted claims of a ‘pay-and-you’ll-go’ approach to its national selection, after accusations that they are requesting €500,000 from potential Eurovision artists in order to represent the microstate in Kyiv.

Last week came the report from an Italian newspaper that the one time Sanremo Giovani winner Tony Maiello has been approached by an agent working for the public broadcaster of San Marino to represent the country. The singer has shared its experience to “Il Fatto Quotidiano”, currently one of the most read newspapers in Italy, to highlight the selection procedure by the Mediterranean enclave.

In few screenshots the agent that has been rendered anonymous by the newspaper reportedly asks the singer whether he’d be interested in participating, stating clearly that a singer should consider a €500,000 investment for “promotion, the travel do[sic] the city and other costs”.

It is not a surprise for followers of Eurovision that some broadcasters require the artist to cover some costs and Eurovision fans would not be shocked at confirmation of San Marino practising this.  A flat denial has been issued this week.

In response to the accusations, SMRTV assembled a short press release which states, “We have not had any contact with Mr. Maiello, nor we charge anyone to contact him on our behalf”. It goes on to suggest that an impostor could have falsely initiated the approach.

If you wish to give credence to the claims of journalist Dominico Naso, what leaves readers a bit puzzled is the sum allegedly requested: €500,000 seems an obscene amount for a few trips, accommodations and subsistence for a small delegation. Knowing that the artist will be bankrolling song production and even taking into account the EBU participation fee, there is still €300,000-400,000 unaccounted for.

Although participation fees vary across the continent, Eurovision is a relatively expensive show for the smaller broadcasters. It’s easy to understand why Monaco and Slovakia are still not interested in returning to the contest, as the cost is prohibitive when weighed up against potential gains from domestic interest levels in the show. That is why it is not forbidden for broadcasters to find financial aid in private ventures.

A good question from the journalist Domenico Naso is, then: has this been the procedure for the last few years? Would this explain why out of the blue the Turkish singer Serhat has represented the Serenissima republic or why all the entries between 2012 and 2015 has been composed, produced and staged by Eurovision veteran Ralph Siegel?

We won’t know. All SMRTV press releases have always tried to address the connection between San Marino and the team chosen in some way or another (with Miodio, Valentina Monetta and Anita Simoncini being citizens of the republic, as per Monica Sarti, backing vocalist for Senit), with last year’s introduction to Serhat underlying that San Marino just wanted to do a “choice that reflects the real nature of Europe”, specifically stating all the countries involved in the production.

After Tony Maiello’s report, though, it raises the question as to whether San Marino has been picking their artistic endeavours on an economic basis – which, again, is not against the rules of the contest, but fundamentally undermine what the show should be about: showcasing the talent of all the countries in Europe, giving a fair platform for smaller newer countries like Montenegro and Malta to compete at the same level as music industry giants such as Italy and the United Kingdom.

What comes out from this to-and-fro story is a ‘pay-and-you’ll-go’ type of selection that hinders the principles of the EBU mission for the contest: if the aim for the Union is to organise the best quality family entertainment in the World (not only Europe), how can it be done when participating broadcasters are accepting gimmicks and low quality productions as long as they are able to pay for a fee? Imagine if if all public broadcasters approached Eurovision selection with a mindset along the lines of, say, the BBC Mission Statement: “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain”? It is a challenge to list many that consistently manage this at present, (and referring above to the BBC is not to suggest they would make the list). How would the contest look and sound in this scenario? What would happen with the ratings for the contest? It is, right now, difficult to say.

San Marino confirmed they will participate in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest on the 31st October. Through an interview, Carlo Romeo, General Director of SMTV, hinted at the possibility of asking Serhat to represent again the oldest republic in Europe, stating that Eurovision fans were left ecstatic by his personality.

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