Australian fans awoke this morning to one of the more surprising announcements of the national final season so far, as Maltese broadcaster PBS stated that fan favourite Aidan Cassar had been disqualified from their national selection for Eurovision 2023.
The broadcaster later clarified that Aidan had been disqualified due to "unauthorised social media posts" - a perplexing claim for some fans, given that several other MESC 2023 favourites are active social media users, including Brooke Borg, The Busker, Maxine Pace and MATT BLXCK.
If you're confused, though, no fear! The Aussievision team has done a deep dive into the rules and regulations of MESC 2023 to try and solve the mystery. Read on below to find out more!
What do the rules say?
After initially providing no explanation for Aidan's disqualification, a representative from PBS later told the Times of Malta that the disqualification arose from a breach of clauses 5.3 and 5.6 of the MESC regulations. The more important of these is 5.6, which reads as follows:
The engagement of marketing personnel, marketing officials, marketing companies or the engagement into some sort of marketing or promotional campaign or activity by the artists to promote themselves, the song, their participation, or in some way to influence the public vote is strictly prohibited. The publication of any social media post, promotion material, interviews or media presence/exposure from the announcement of the quarter finalist’s onwards is also strictly prohibited. Any breach of this clause will lead to automatic disqualification.
At the outset, it should be emphasized that these rules probably can't be read literally (and clearly aren't being read literally by PBS). In an ideal world, all rules would be perfectly clear and consistent, but in practice this isn't always the case. Often, overly hasty drafting can result in terms and conditions that are confusing or contradictory. This is certainly the case here.
If we take clause 5.6 at face value, for example, then any social media post by a MESC participant at all (even if entirely unrelated to MESC) would be grounds for automatic disqualification - on this basis, almost every participant in MESC 2023 would have already been disqualified!
This is clearly not what is intended - the following rule, 5.7, limits its scope to social media posts "related to the submitted songs, artists and contest". It seems probable that a similar stipulation was intended to apply to clause 5.6's prohibition on social media posts.
Why would a broadcaster seek to control social media posts by national final participants?
For some fans, the idea of preventing an artist from publicising their song seems unduly harsh. However, there are two points worth making here.
First, it is clear that PBS has taken a fairly lenient view on self-promotion to date. Most of the big artists at MESC have publicised their songs on social media, sharing album covers and snapshots from their live auditions.
Indeed, what is notable is how similar all the artists' social media posts have been to date - compare, for example, the posts made by Brooke, The Busker, Maxine Pace and MATT BLXCK after their live auditions last weekend. This is strongly suggestive of some kind of internal media plan allowing the artists to publicise their acts on relatively equal terms.
This raises the second point - fairness. In a small country such as Malta, where national finals can be won or lost on a few hundred votes, there is a risk that allowing one act to run a massive social media campaign could make the competition unfair for smaller acts without the same resources.
PBS recognises this risk in rule 5.8 of the MESC regulations:
The contestants are reminded that the winning song will be determined by juries and televoting, and in this regard, PBS highly emphasizes that any attempt to influence or alter either the televoting system or any jury will lead to disqualification.
It is in this context that clause 5.6 should be read - PBS is not as concerned about random social media posts as it is about coordinated marketing campaigns which could "influence the public vote".
Why was Aidan disqualified?
We should emphasize that we're missing a lot of the information here. However, based on Aidan's recent social media activity, it's possible to piece together what potentially happened.
On 20 January, Aidan posted a video to social media introducing his dancers for his MESC 2023 entry, "Regina", and showing bits of the choreography for the song. This choreography had not yet been made public by PBS - and voting in the quarter finals hadn't even started yet!
Around the same time, Aidan also published a number of banner ads with the slogan "I support Regina/Aidan" which fans could use to show their support.
These social media posts were more extensive and more directly self-promotional than the posts made by other MESC artists (which, as shown above, largely stuck to the same parameters). While it is highly unlikely that Aidan was intending to express anything other than his enthusiasm to go to Eurovision for Malta, it seems plausible that PBS was concerned that this publicity could influence the public vote and offer Aidan an extra advantage.
Could other participants be disqualified?
There has been speculation that other MESC 2023 participants could also be disqualified on the basis of having made social media posts about their acts.
However, as shown above, it seems likely that posts which stick within PBS' parameters do not present any problems for the relevant acts.
The reference to a strict prohibition on all social media posts in rule 5.6 should not be taken literally, in this sense - realistically, it is more likely to be the product of confused contractual drafting. And while references to "automatic disqualification" certainly sound very emphatic, it is worth remembering that the only body which can effect such a disqualification is PBS itself.
Consequently, while PBS certainly could choose to enforce the rule in its strictest sense, the question of whether they would remains open.
For now, then, we say goodbye to Aidan for this year. As one of Malta's most talented up-and-coming artists, though, it's difficult to believe that it will be too long before we see him again...
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