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Eurovision Tel Aviv controversy dampens enthusiasm around song contest

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: controversy swirls around Tel Aviv Eurovision contest; canola farmers are feeling the pinch in Canada's dispute with China; the rise of 'spoiler' pop culture; interview with with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Netta from Israel celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest grand final in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 12, 2018. Controversy has embroiled several aspects of the enormously popular music competition that will take place in Tel Aviv next week. (Armando Franca/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Visitors aren't flocking to Tel Aviv for next weeks' Eurovision song-contest finals. 
  • Canola farmers are feeling the pinch as Canada's dispute with China drags on.
  • Why are we doing so much spoiler-policing to protect entertainment mega-franchises?
  • Rosemary Barton sits down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Eurovision

It's a contest that is supposed to bring people together, but this year, Eurovision seems destined to drive them apart.

That's because the 64th edition of the enormously popular and unspeakably cheesy musical Olympics will take place in Tel Aviv next week, thanks to Israel's 2018 triumph in Lisbon.

The controversy has been brewing for months, starting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's desire to stage the event in Jerusalem. He was overruled by the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the annual song battle.

In April there was a spat over the security costs, with organizers halting work on the stage and seaside concert site until the government handed over an additional 1.5 million shekels ($570,000 Cdn).

And this week, there were reports that Israel intends to refuse entry to foreigners who it believes might be planning to disrupt the live Eurovision broadcasts — aired across 50 countries to an audience of 189 million people last year — to denounce the government's treatment of Palestinians.

Palestinian activists and their supporters have called for a Eurovision boycott — to little evident success, with 42 nations having already sent their contestants to Tel Aviv.

Activists hold placards calling for the boycott of Eurovision along Israel's controversial separation barrier that divides the West Bank from Jerusalem, during the 7th International Palestine Marathon on March 22. (Musa al Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

But there will be a competing online broadcast, dubbed Globalvision, on the night of the May 18 finals, featuring Palestinian and international artists as well as dedicated to fans "who believe in inclusion and diversity."

Israel is pulling out the stops for this year's contest, which unrolls over four evenings, with plans for food festivals, all-night parties, free Hebrew lessons, and cheap drinks at Tel Aviv bars and cafes. Madonna has been announced as a special guest performer at the finals.

Yet only about 5,000 tourists are scheduled to attend — far short of the anticipated tens of thousands — and ticket sales have been weak.

Sun shelters and huge chairs promote Eurovision at the beach in Tel Aviv on May 7. Local officials are hoping the contest next week will be a big tourist draw. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

And last weekend's exchange of rocket and missile fire between the Gaza Strip and Southern Israel — the heaviest fighting in years — might well have convinced some to change their plans.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's public security minister, issued a warning this week saying that there will be no Eurovision truce should the rocket attacks resume.

"The security of the residents of the South is more important than cultural events or festivals," he said.

This isn't the first time that Israel has hosted the contest, having won twice in the late '70s, and again in 1998 when the transgender singer Dana International won with Diva.

Last year, Netta Barzilai won the hearts and votes of Eurovision fans with her electro-Latin-chicken-funk effort Toy.

But these days, there's no escaping politics.

The international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign has drawn on tactics used against Apartheid-era South Africa to pressure artists not to perform in Israel, convincing Lorde, Lana Del Rey and others to cancel shows.

And this year's Eurovision has spawned a mini celebrity war, with 50 prominent figures, like Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, Vivienne Westwood and Yann Martel, signing an open letter demanding the relocation of the contest, and 100 others, including Stephen Fry, Sharon Osbourne and Gene Simmons, urging that the show must go on.

Now assured that the contest will take place in Tel Aviv, the Israeli government seems to be taking some delight in needling its critics. A couple of weeks ago, it launched a Google ad campaign which promises information on Eurovision and the boycott, then links to a website, that promotes the country's "Beautiful, Diverse, Sensational" virtues.

Regardless, it seems unlikely that the controversy will last much past Friday's finale.

The odds-on favourite to win this year's Eurovision prize is Duncan Laurence, the Dutch entrant, while Israel's Kobi Marmimi has been given just a 1 per cent chance of defending the nation's title.

Dutch singer Duncan Laurence performs at Het Zonnehuis in Amsterdam on May 1, shortly before leaving for Tel Aviv to represent the Netherlands at the Eurovision Song Contest. (Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images)

Although anyone who likes to wager might consider John Lundvik of Sweden.

The Scandanvian nation has six wins since the contest first went to air in 1956, including the song Waterloo, which launched the career of ABBA in 1974.


Problems on the prairies

Canola farmers are feeling the pinch as Canada's dispute with China drags on, reporter David Common writes.

If you were a widget maker and your biggest customer stopped buying your widgets, you might turn to making something else. At the very least, you'd be in for a tough year.

Some Canadian farmers are facing a big challenge, just as they plant their crops for the year. If that crop is canola, as it is for most prairie grain growers, the biggest market has suddenly closed its doors.

China has effectively blocked exports, likely in response to Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Her extradition process could take years — so farmers are now worrying the canola blockade could last just as long.

"Farmers should brace themselves for the potential," Manitoba farmer Toban Dyck told us as we rode along inside his tractor during seeding. "China is a giant wild card … it's difficult to kind of put a game plan together."

A canola crop used for making cooking oil in full bloom on the Canadian prairies near Fort Macleod, Alta. Vast acreages are usually planted with canola in Canada each year. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Dyck is not planting canola this year. He'd already planned it that way before the dispute broke out — and now considers himself lucky for having made that decision. For most other farmers, changing their crop now is too costly and problematic. Seed is often purchased in the fall when there are deals, and farmers don't want to abandon that investment now.

But with China normally buying 40 per cent of the Canadian crop, government and agriculture groups are frantically trying to find new customers in other countries. It's unlikely they can make up the shortfall.

Canola is grown primarily in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Drive across those provinces in the summer, you'll see the stunningly vast fields of the yellow plant. So much is grown, the fields would cover the equivalent of all of New Brunswick and still spill into the ocean.

Farmers are already pulling back, planting 1.5 million fewer acres of canola this year — that's an area quite a bit larger than PEI.

Farmers unload canola while harvesting near Beiseker, Alta. Canola prices have dropped since China closed its doors to the crop. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Agriculture is a big export for Canada, a big business carried out by thousands of small business owners. Just a small shift in prices can really have an impact on the bottom line.

Toban Dyck, like most farmers, still has canola from last fall's harvest in the large metal bins on his family farm. Usually a wait over the winter means better selling prices in the spring. But this season, the price for canola has gone from about $13.25 a bushel down to $11.50. For many farmers, that shift is equal to about $200,000 less revenue.

"I don't want to complain," Dyck told us, "it's just what we face right now. We face a very volatile unknown in global trade, such that we've never experienced before."

As much as Canadian farmers may be hoping for a resolution of the dispute between Canada and China, they may also fear an end to the trade fight that country is embroiled in with the U.S. If a trade deal is inked, it would make American products tariff-free between the countries, and make it easier for China to hit Canada even harder by buying American. If that happens, more than just canola farmers could be hurt.

Watch our story tonight on The National.

- David Common


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Pop Panel

This week, Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of the record-breaking blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, lifted the ban on revealing spoilers from the movie. But why all the spoiler-policing in the first place, asks producer Tarannum Kamlani.

If you're into pop culture and you've clicked on a story about Game of Thrones or Avengers: Endgame, chances are you've seen the words: SPOILER ALERT.

The words are designed to preserve the integrity of the first-time viewing pleasure of fans who have invested time and money in zeitgeist-grabbing movies and shows.

Spoiler culture (some might call it spoiler paranoia) hit its peak recently after several minutes of the final scenes of Avengers: Endgame were leaked ahead of the film's release. Its producers put out a PSA featuring the cast urging people who had seen it not to spoil the ending for others.

Fans of the Avengers arrive for a costume contest before the first screening of 'Avengers: Endgame' at the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Calif., on April 25. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

That ban was lifted this week, prompting cast-members who had filmed themselves and their colleagues on set during the making of the film to flood their social media accounts with these irresistible videos.

For Game of Thrones producers, preventing leaks and spoilers was a huge part of the production of the show, especially once it moved past the material in the books written by George R.R. Martin. They went to extraordinary lengths to prevent leaks, so crucial for a show infamous for shocking plot twists and character deaths.

Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones' that aired May 5. (Helen Sloan/HBO via AP)

Intentionally revealing plot turns on social media has become a huge faux pas. Just take the example of NFL player Lesean McCoy.

The Buffalo Bills player found himself trending for all the wrong reasons when he revealed major Endgame spoilers on Twitter. There was even a petition calling for him to be traded.

But some have argued that if the merits of a movie or show hinge so much on a shocking twist or surprise of some sort that it can be ruined by a spoiler, then it isn't that good to begin with. And there are studies that suggest spoilers can actually enhance your viewing experience.

So what are the rules around spoilers — should there be a spoiler etiquette? Are the heightened emotions around spoilers ruining everyone's fun, or are they making sure everyone gets to enjoy new movies and shows? Is this all really just part of the entertainment industry's hype machine?

That's what we'll be discussing on this week's Pop Panel. Andrew Chang is joined in The National's studio by Sportsnet writer and host Donnovan Bennett, freelance writer Stacy Lee Kong, and soon-to-be published Marvel Comics author Anthony Oliveira. Hope you'll join us!

- Tarannum Kamlani

  • WATCH: The Pop Panel, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

Inside the NBA

The National co-host Rosemary Barton sits down with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

The NBA offices in New York are right by Rockefeller Plaza. A regular high-rise — except on the inside.

The walls are lined with lockers and giant photos of players. Speakers in the washroom blast play-by-plays of recent games. The boardroom is called "courtside."

It's a pretty normal-looking boardroom, so my producer smartly asked if they could bring in some basketballs to make it look a little more "basketbally." But there was one more thing they also offered to jazz up the space, sitting in a black duffel bag on the floor.

Turns out the Larry O'Brien trophy — you know, the one they give to the NBA champions — was in that duffel bag.

Now admittedly, it was wrapped in a Tiffany's blanket, but needless to say we asked them to bring it out. And then we got some pretty neat selfies.

Rosemary Barton takes a selfie in the reflection of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy. (Rosemary Barton/CBC)

Cool moments aside, the reason we went to New York was to chat with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. It's now almost 25 years since the NBA expanded into Canada, and of course we all know the Toronto Raptors are doing pretty OK.

We wanted to talk to Silver not only about potential future expansion (he's open to it, though they aren't in "expansion mode" right now), why the NBA is so progressive and comfortable letting its players speak out on any issue (as opposed to the situation in the NFL), and why the NBA is determined to support the WNBA (in contrast to the NHL's lack of backing for professional women in hockey).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Silver is a thoughtful guy who loves basketball a lot. But he is also very aware of the global brand of the NBA — and what he has to do to keep the league successful, and the players and owners happy.

You might not expect me to do a sports interview, but honestly, this one is a lot more about the moment we are living in, how basketball grapples with all of those same issues the rest of the world is dealing with, and how Silver manages it.

But yes, I also ask if he thinks Kawhi Leonard will stick with the Raptors. You'll have to watch the interview on Sunday night's The National to hear that answer.

- Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: The interview with Adam Silver Sunday night on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Snack season.


Quote of the moment

 "Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker. Just sit back and watch! In the meantime, China should not renegotiate deals with the U.S. at the last minute. This is not the Obama Administration, or the Administration of Sleepy Joe, who let China get away with 'murder!'" 

- U.S. President Donald Trumptweets out his rationale for imposing an additional $200 billion in tariffs this morning, in his ongoing trade war with China.


What The National is reading

  • Canada's economy adds 106,500 jobs, most in a month since 1976 (CBC)
  • 10 million displaced internally by conflict in 2018: Report (Al Jazeera)
  • Dozens dead after boat carrying migrants sinks off Tunisia coast (CBC)
  • French troops free foreign hostages in Burkina Faso (BBC)
  • Abortion law sours Hollywood on Georgia (CNN)
  • Three Thais accused of insulting king have disappeared: rights group (Reuters)
  • The sickest burns from seven seasons of Veep (Vulture)
  • Snake turns up in washing machine smelling 'like Downy' (Associated Press)

Today in history

May 10, 1963: The case against Mother's Day

Mother's Day is an "ordeal" from which there is no escape, says Toronto newspaper columnist Joan Seager, filled with charred breakfasts and useless gifts. What moms really want is "a meal where no-one spills their milk or asks questions like 'does God have an aunt?'" Her satirical rant makes the crew of Take 30 laugh out loud a couple of times, but it has got some edge. "The most frightening thing about motherhood — otherwise known as instant slavery — is that it can happen to anyone," she says. "And it does."

Columnist Joan Seager offers her thoughts on modern motherhood. 5:54

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.