Eurovision venue in Tallinn under dispute

  • 2001-05-31
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The Estonian Council of Broadcasting announced May 24 that Estonia will hold the Eurovision Song Contest next year despite the mounting debts of its national television network. All necessary governmental departments approved hosting the contest, but the national TV channel Estonian Television criticized the government for insufficient guarantees of the loan it badly needs to broadcast the contest.

The government offered a state-guaranteed loan of 37 million kroons ($2.07 million) to ETV although the channel was hoping for 77 million kroons.

The venue for the song contest is still under discussion, but the Saku Suurhall, which is currently under construction, is the most probable venue thanks to its 10,000-seat capacity.

Even though it has 7,000 permanent seats, the hall can hold up to 10,000 people - 3,000 of which will have to stand or have temporary seats.

"Rescue department specialists said it is the upper safety limit," said Riho Remmel, the Saku hall project manager.

Remmel said the 180 million kroon arena will be the largest one in the Baltics. According to the contract signed with Saku brewery, the hall will carry the brewery's name for five years.

The Tallinn city government has already bought a box in the new hall for almost 2 million kroons, according to the city administration's press service. The money was taken out of the city government's reserve fund. A similar purchase at a stadium in Tallinn for 1.77 million kroons caused a wave of negative feedback in the local media.

"In order to properly arrange hosting foreign guests in Tallinn, these buys were necessary," said Kaido Padar, a spokesman for the city.

Another large arena which is nearly completed in Tallinn is Lillekula stadium. With a 15,000-seat capacity, it probably makes a more attractive venue for the song contest.

The 38,000-seat arena used for the contest in Denmark this year was a sports stadium with a temporary roof to hold the necessary TV and stage equipment.

Aare Uusalu, the project manager for the Lillekula stadium from the Estonian Industrial Project Architecture Bureau, said a similar setup is possible, but it would be complicated and expensive to built a temporary roof on the new stadium.

"We haven't really thought about it," admitted Uusalu.

The soccer field itself could also be used for the audience. "But then some part of the stands would face the back of the stage, and therefore, it would be useless in the sense of getting more people to the venue," added Uusalu.

Several government sources and rival media organizations have meanwhile accused ETV of using the song contest as a tool for blackmailing the government for more funds.

Finance Minister Siim Kallas in an interview to the daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht on May 23 said he is sure ETV had used the present situation to blackmail the government for additional funds by linking the song contest with a government loan guarantee and possible closure of the station.

"Why won't Eurovision be in Estonia if the government and Siim Kallas personally confirmed their approval on getting the necessary funds," said Tiit Sinisaar, chairman of the broadcasting council and a member of the Pro Patria Union.

"I am stating it with complete assurance that next year's Eurovi-sion will take place in Estonia and nowhere else," added Sinisaar.

On May 23 President Lennart Meri's office received information from the Estonian Embassy in Dublin that Joris Mussche, who lives in Wicklow, donated 25 Irish pounds ($27) in support of Estonia's efforts to host the contest.

"The Irish lady wrote that as her vote had among others contributed to Estonia's victory, she wished to make her contribution for the next song contest to take place in Tallinn," said Meri's spokeswoman Karin Piir.

Meri announced the same day, May 23, that everybody wishing to contribute to the organization of the Eurovision contest in Tallinn can make their donations to the account of the President of the Republic's Cultural Foundation. The account number is 221013869800 at Hansapank and the password "Eurovisioon" should be added.

As of May 27, according to Meri's office, 34 people had donated over 8,000 kroons to the foundation. Simple math shows that if this trend continues until next May, the donations will not make 1 million of the estimated 50 million kroons Estonia needs to carry out the contest.

One of the major financial difficulties for ETV is its debt to the European Broadcasting Union for its membership fee and joint projects. According to ETV Chairman Aare Urm, the debt totals roughly 10 million kroons.

"This year we paid back about 2 million, and the EBU interest on overdue payments is higher than 9 percent, which is a very high rate," Urm said in an online press conference.

Urm said the debt had accumulated over a longer period of time and that as far as he knew, ETV has been in arrears to EBU since ETV became a member of the European public broadcasters organization.

EBU Secretary General Jean-Bernard Muench said to the Postimees daily published on May 24 that the EBU could ban ETV from staging next year's Eurovision song contest if the television station were unable to repay its debt.

"We will ask all EBU member countries that have debts to present a repayment schedule and if this isn't done we'll have the right to resort to sanctions," Muench told the Postimees.