Jon Ola Sand, Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, on gearing up for the contest, and Azerbaijan's credentials as a host.

Jon Ola Sand
Jon Ola Sand is the Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest. He has more than 15 years’ experience in major productions and co-productions at Norwegian public broadcaster NRK and TV2 Norway as well as independent production companies. He is also a member of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which hands out the Emmy Awards every year. He has produced or directed a variety of programs, such as the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, the Norwegian Film Awards, and the Norwegian national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, the Melodi Grand Prix.

In May of this year, the eyes of Europe will rest on Azerbaijan, as its public broadcaster hosts the 57th Eurovision Song Contest. For some of the 100 million viewers across more than 40 countries that this television tradition unites, it will represent their first glimpse of Azerbaijan. As such, the event is an opportunity to do far more than demonstrate Azerbaijan's ability to produce three state-of-the-art TV programs. “Baku 2012" offers a first impression. And the chance to create a first impression only comes once.

In 2006, Ictimai TV—Azerbaijan's first public broadcaster—was established with the intention to create a public broadcaster according to the European model. Ictimai TV was embraced by the pan-European fold of public broadcasting institutions in 2007 when it was granted membership by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Today, to ensure Ictimai TV meets its duty—as a member of the EBU—the EBU remains unequivocally committed to the development of fair and balanced, quality journalism through training, professional discussion and the exchange of best practices. As ever, the EBU is on standby to assist Ictimai—and all its other members—in best serving their audiences.

Membership of the union came with another much anticipated benefit; participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. The pool of journalists and strong fan base who follow the contest year-in year-out looked upon the new member with curiosity; some even reached for a map. Conscious of its newcomer status, Ictimai TV sent out a strong message in the lead up to the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, when Azerbaijan participated for the first time. Not only did it host an unprecedented national selection event, it threw a spectacular introduction party. The message was clear; Azerbaijan was in it to win it.

“The Eurovision Song Contest is above all a cultural celebration, an international music competition that pits nations against each other in a completely amicable way."

It took no less than four years for Azerbaijan to top the scoreboard, just slightly more than Ukraine, which secured hosting rights after just two years of participation in 2004.

It doesn't take much reflection to appreciate the potential the Song Contest offers to a professional singer to reach into the living rooms of more than 100 million people across Europe. No less applies to the host country. While as organizers, we fiercely defend the apolitical nature of the contest. The event has been long regarded “a postcard to Europe," an opportunity for the host to promote its unique character, its vibrant cityscape, and historical hotspots.

Azerbaijan is poised to benefit. Public relations experts put the promotional value alone of the event at a billion euros. Thousands of people travel to the host city to attend the contest. In 2010, the local tourist authority in Oslo calculated guest spending at hotels, restaurants, taxi companies, museums, and local suppliers at around €100 million.

The Eurovision Song Contest is above all a cultural celebration, an international music competition that pits nations against each other in a completely amicable way. Its power lies in its capacity to bring people and nations together in a way that no other event can. In respecting the choice of European viewers to vote Azerbaijan's entrant winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2011, we abided by our own rules—and thereby granting host rights to Azerbaijan's public broadcaster.

Hosting the contest should not be interpreted as a political endorsement. The set of criteria that must be met is long. In Fall of 2011, the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan signed a commitment to, among other things, grant security to those who will visit Baku for the purpose of the contest, assuring freedom of movement for the 1,500 to 2,000 journalists visiting Azerbaijan for the 57th Eurovision Song Contest.

The aim of Eurovision is to unite Europe and of course, to generate a good time. After what is without doubt the most agreeable of battles, a winner will emerge. By placing Azerbaijan at the heart of the debate, by facilitating a means for others to press for positive change, the potential exists however, for everyone to win.