There are a number of rules which must be observed by the participating nations. The rules are numerous and unabridged, and a separate draft is produced each year, which explicitly specifies the dates by which certain things must be done; for example the deadline by which all the participating broadcasters must submit the final recorded version of their song to the EBU. Many rules pertain to such matters as sponsorship agreements and rights of broadcasters to re-transmit the show within a certain time. The most notable rules which actually affect the format and presentation of the Contest have changed somewhat over the years, and are highlighted here.
In 1958 it was decided that from then on, the winning country (France, at the time) would host the Contest the next year. The winner of the 1957 Contest was the Netherlands, and Dutch television accepted the responsibility of hosting in 1958. In all but five of the years since this rule has been in place, the winning country has hosted the show the following year. The exceptions are:
- 1960—hosted by the BBC in London when the Netherlands declined due to expense. The UK was chosen to host because it had come second in 1959.
- 1963—hosted by the BBC in London when France declined due to expense. Although the UK had only come fourth in 1962, Monaco and Luxembourg (who came second and third) had also declined.
- 1972—hosted by the BBC in Edinburgh when Monaco was unable to provide a suitable venue: Monegasque television invited the BBC to take over due to its previous experience.
- 1974—hosted by the BBC in Brighton when Luxembourg declined due to expense. The BBC was becoming known as the host by default, if the winning country declined.
- 1980—hosted by NOS in The Hague when the Israel Broadcasting Authority declined due to expense, and the fact that the date chosen for the Contest (19 April) was Israel’s Remembrance Day that year. The Dutch offered to host the Contest after several other broadcasters (including theBBC) were unwilling to do so.
The declinations due to expense were due to those broadcasters’ already having hosted the Contest during the past couple of years. Since 1981, all Contests have been held in the country which won the previous year.
All vocals must be sung live: no voices are permitted on backing tracks. In 1999, the Croatian song featured sounds on their backing track which sounded suspiciously like human voices. The Croatian delegation stated that there were no human voices, but only digitally synthesised sounds which replicated vocals. The EBU nevertheless decided that they had broken the spirit of the rules, and docked them 33% of their points total that year as used for calculating their five-year points average for future qualification.
From 1956 until 1998, it was necessary for the host country to provide a live orchestra for the use of the participants. Prior to 1973, all music was required to be played by the host orchestra. From 1973 onwards, pre-recorded backing tracks were permitted—although the host country was still obliged to provide a live orchestra in order to give participants a choice. If a backing track was used, then all the instruments heard on the track were required to be present on the stage. In 1997 this requirement was dropped.
In 1999 the rules were amended to abolish the requirement by the host broadcaster to provide a live orchestra, leaving it as an optional contribution.The host that year, Israel’s IBA, decided not to use an orchestra in order to save on expenses, and 1999 became the first year in which all of the songs were played as pre-recorded backing tracks (in conjunction with live vocals). The orchestra has not since made an appearance at the Contest; the last time being in 1998 when the BBC hosted the show in Birmingham.
The rule requiring countries to sing in their own national language has been changed several times over the years. From 1956 until 1965, there was no rule restricting the languages in which the songs could be sung. In 1966 a rule was imposed stating that the songs must be performed in one of the official languages of the country participating, after Sweden presented its 1965 entry in English.
The language restriction continued until 1973, when it was lifted and performers were again allowed to sing in any language they wished. Several winners in the mid-1970s took advantage of the newly found allowance, with performers from non-English-speaking countries singing in English, includingABBA in 1974.
In 1977, the EBU decided to revert to the national language restriction. Special dispensation was given to Germany and Belgium as their national selections had already taken place – both countries’ entries were in English.
In 1999 the rule was changed to allow the choice of language once more. With this linguistic allowance the Belgian entry in 2003, “Sanomi”, was sung in a constructed language. In 2006 the Dutch entry, “Amambanda”, was sung partly in English and partly in an artificial language. In 2008 the Belgian entry, “O Julissi”, was sung in an artificial language. In 2011 the Norwegian entry, “Haba Haba”, which was sung in English and Swahili, was the first song to be sung in an African language.
Each participating broadcaster is required to broadcast the show in its entirety: including all songs, recap, voting and reprise, skipping only the interval act for advertising breaks if they wish. From 1999 onwards, broadcasters who wished to do so were given the opportunity to take more advertising breaks as short, non-essential hiatuses were introduced into the programme. The Dutch state broadcaster pulled their broadcast of the 2000 final to provide emergency news coverage of a major incident, the Enschede fireworks disaster. This was technically a violation of the rule, but was done out of necessity.
Political recognition issues
In 1978, during the performance of the Israeli entry, the Jordanian broadcaster JRTV suspended the broadcast and showed pictures of flowers. When it became apparent during the later stages of the voting sequence that Israel was going to win the Contest, JRTV abruptly ended the transmission.Afterwards, the Jordanian news media refused to acknowledge the fact that Israel had won and announced that the winner was Belgium (which had actually come in 2nd place). In 1981 JRTV did not broadcast the voting because the name of Israel appeared on the scoreboard.
In 2005, Lebanon intended to participate in the Contest. However, Lebanese law does not allow recognition of Israel, and consequently Lebanese television did not intend to transmit the Israeli entry. The EBU informed them that such an act would breach the rules of the Contest, and Lebanon was subsequently forced to withdraw from the competition. Their late withdrawal incurred a fine, since they had already confirmed their participation and the deadline had passed.
- In the first Contest in 1956, there was a recommended time limit of 3½ minutes per song. In 1957, despite protests, the Italian song was 5:09 minutes in duration. This led to a stricter time limit of 3 minutes precisely.
- There is no restriction imposed by the EBU on the nationality of the performers or songwriters. Individual broadcasters are, however, permitted to impose their own restrictions at their discretion.
- From 1957 to 1970 (in 1956 there was no restriction at all), only soloists and duos were allowed on stage. From 1963, a chorus of up to three people was permitted. Since 1971, a maximum of six performers have been permitted on the stage.
- The performance and/or lyrics of a song “must not bring the Contest into disrepute”.
- From 1990 onwards, all people on stage must be at least 16 years of age.[22