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Explaining Junior Eurovision’s Safeguarding Policy Written by on November 25, 2023

Introduced at this year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest is the EBU’s Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy, a document that everyone accredited to the competition must adhere to. Ben Robertson talks about how this works and if this is enough to protect the children at Junior Eurovision. 

The Yerevan 2022 edition of Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be remembered for many things. The huge, Eurovision-ready stage in the arena and production to match. A host city that was decorated from top to toe in Junior regalia and an Opening Ceremony that blew the budget on fireworks and special guests. A bunch of songs are artists that not only entertained, they brought music with quality – and here I include the United Kingdom’s televote topping banger and Ireland’s best place in Eurovision this century.

However not every memory of the show in Yerevan is a happy one. Lissandro, our 13-year-old winner, deactivated his social media from public view in the aftermath of victory, following comments and reaction from viewers that overstepped the mark. Before the competition numerous acts fell ill, resulting in Freya Skye from the United Kingdom missing the jury show or, in Katarina Savić’s case from Serbia, the live broadcast to millions across Europe.

Illness has not ravaged a Junior Eurovision event so widespread as it did in Yerevan last year. After that Contest, the ESC Insight team wrote: “Illness can happen at any Contest, but to see so many wiped out this week has been tough to witness. This is the perfect chance for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to evaluate their policies and practices so that there’s an open plan for Liverpool and beyond”.

Debuting in Nice this year we have the introduction of the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy; launched by the EBUfor this year’s Junior Eurovision. As a statement from an EBU Spokesperson to ESC Insight makes clear, “the safety and wellbeing of all those taking part in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, not least the young artists, is our top priority.”

The Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy (from now on referred to as the “Safeguarding Policy”) is a new document that everybody who works as Junior Eurovision this year in any capacity must sign up to adhere to. The aims of this policy are to ensure that everybody attending can:

  • Be informed and aware of what constitutes abuse.
  • Know how to recognise abuse.
  • Understand what they are required to do should they have any concern for the welfare of a child.

By creating this Safeguarding Policy the EBU aims to support “creating a culture” where the welfare of participants is of the utmost priority for all in attendance to stop instances of child abuse. Child abuse is a wide-ranging term, defined in the Safeguarding Policy as “any action by another person that causes significant harm to a child.” Such abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional, including neglect and lack of sufficient care and attention.

The Safeguarding Policy gives numerous examples of abuse types which would breach the framework. Physical abuse could include pushing a child out from backstage into the arena who was reluctant about doing so. Ridiculing children for forgetting the lyrics or choreography would count as emotional abuse. A case of neglect could include making children work in environments where they are hungry, thirsty or tired, or dealing with issues such as feeling unwell.

Feeling unwell is of course a spectrum that is difficult to prescribe in any policy document. The EBU clarified that in such situations there will be “appropriate actions” drawn up between all delegations and the EBU.

The scope of the Safeguarding Policy can also extend to cases that go beyond adult/children working relationships. Witnessing or being aware of cases of bullying and cyberbullying, even between the children themselves, should warrant attention from anybody observing it. Equally suspecting domestic abuse, including controlling and threatening behaviour, where children could disclose feeling scared to go home, is cause to escalate the issue.

The Safeguarding Manager

Should anybody at Junior Eurovision suspect that any type of child abuse is taking place at Junior Eurovision, that individual has the responsibility of escalating this through to the Safeguarding Manager. And, if you have doubts about whether what you have witnessed is abuse, the policy is clear that it is better to report suspected abuse than to not do so.

The Safeguarding Manager for Junior Eurovision is Gert Kark, the JESC/ESC Project Manager. Fans of the contest may recognise him from appearing as the EBU Supervisor during some previous editions of Junior Eurovision where he confirmed all the results were ready before the voting sequence began.

The Safeguarding Manager is the point for any questions about the Safeguarding Policy and the point of contact for any referrals from anybody concerned. They then have the role of maintaining the confidential records of such instances and following up each case.

Should the Safeguarding Manager need advice, or decisions need to be made to contact police and/or child protection agencies, the EBU Safeguarding Managers of Martin Österdahl (Eurovision Song Contest Executive Supervisor), Marta Piekarska (Chairperson, Junior Eurovision Steering Group) and Jean-Philip De Tender (EBU Deputy Director General/Director Media) are also present to deal with safeguarding concerns.

Furthermore, each Head of Delegation will act as a Safeguarding Lead for their delegation, managing concerns or risk for their act and informing the Safeguarding Manager as appropriate. There is also a senior manager from each edition’s host broadcaster who may be the contact for other children at Junior Eurovision (such as any interval acts).

When receiving a report, the Safeguarding Manager will then contact the appropriate people to discuss the allegations. For example, should a matter concern one of the contestants at Junior Eurovision, the Safeguarding Leads from the Host Broadcaster and that competing nation will gather information about the concern to investigate, and take further action as required.

Is The Policy Enough For Junior Eurovision?

Junior Eurovision should be not just the pinnacle of safeguarding for events within the EBU, as the continent’s biggest entertainment production for young people it should be the global standard. This Safeguarding Policy is similar to those that other broadcasters have already had in place—here is the BBC equivalent,—and in some sense creating Junior Eurovision’s equivalent document is bringing this competition in line with other providers.

To compare the BBC and EBU policies, there are elements where the BBC policy goes further than the EBU. For example, anybody working with children within the BBC must complete the company’s online safeguarding module, and if that work extends to day-to-day responsibilities then the Safeguarding Advanced course must be completed. Within the EBU any training has only been offered to “key individuals” who have “safeguarding responsibility”, so many of the staff the children have worked with this week may not have had this equivalent training.

The BBC document makes it clear that a risk assessment “must be conducted” for all work with children and young people. A risk assessment would consider “all aspects of how a child or young person could experience harm during and post production, and how the child/young person will be safeguarded”, seeking to plan to reduce risks as much as possible. There isn’t any mention of this preventative planning in the document, instead, this document is one about reacting when safeguarding issues occur.

But despite some critique, it should be said that this Safeguarding Policy, and the EBU’s increased codification of the Code of Behaviour, are significant steps in the right direction for Junior Eurovision. Of course, the primary aim of such action is to ensure the safety and well-being of the competition’s young people is ensured throughout their Junior Eurovision experience. Beyond that though is a secondary aim, of showing to the wider community that Junior Eurovision doesn’t just take safeguarding seriously, but that it can be the pinnacle of safe events wherever you are from.

We still have nations such as Denmark and Norway organising domestic equivalents to Junior Eurovision that don’t continue onto this wider platform, citing that the acts are “playing adults rather than acting like children” or that the competition is “too rough” for children.

There are many elements of cultural difference behind those statements from those two broadcasters, but a stronger Safeguarding Policy is one of the steps that could be considered vital in ensuring all of Europe feels comfortable within the confines of Junior Eurovision. Hopefully, we will never ever need to follow these procedures laid out by the EBU’s Safeguarding Policy, but knowing it is there and there are formal routes to take concerns forward is a great step in the correct direction.

The EBU has made it clear that “anyone not accredited who would like to report an abuse is welcome to contact the EBU or France TV directly.”

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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