As the voting scandal around the 2013 contest has continued to unravel, we at ESCtips (read: Gavster) have written a number of articles reporting on developments, commenting on the EBU’s actions and suggesting improvements to the processes. Certain of these could be seen as being overly critical, something that Sietse Bakker himself has pointed out.
My own personal viewpoint is that, on occasions, some of the conclusions have been on the harsh side. I will outline my reasoning below. (N.B. any opinions and conclusions here are purely my own. I would also like to point out that I am writing this article at Gav’s request.)
There seems to be a fair amount of evidence that some of the voting at ESC 2013 was rigged. This much we all agree on. We’ve seen the video at 12points.tv, we’ve looked at the voting patterns. Something’s not right.
However, to see the EBU Reference Group as the apocryphal three wise monkeys (“see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”) is wrong.
To start with, action has been taken to ensure the integrity of the Eurovision vote. People may not agree with it. People may think that it goes nowhere near far enough, but action has been taken. For those of you who think that changes should go further, consider the following:
1. This is not the X Factor
In the X Factor (or similar shows), Simon Cowell (or whoever) can change things on a whim, and sometimes does, often if it might benefit his Syco label or indeed his own multi-million pound fortune. The EBU does not have this luxury.
I consider it quite likely that the EBU Reference Group knows a lot more than it is making public. However, imagine the outcry in respective countries should Sietse Bakker have said to Gavin “actually, we know there are irregularities in Country X, and have strong suspicions.” What would the reaction be in Country X? Withdrawal from next year’s contest? Probably. At a time when countries are withdrawing from ESC (often blaming financial reasons), why risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
There are differences between proof, evidence and hearsay. Evidence is what we saw from the initial 15min.lt article, or indeed in certain voting patterns. Hearsay is what we’ve had recently in the articles quoting Bonnie Tyler and Kutlu Özmakinacı. I hope, and believe, that the EBU will be investigating these allegations. However, I do not see any concrete proof in either of these quotes, and think that Sietse Bakker’s response to Gav on Facebook regarding this is absolutely reasonable.
Also, I want to point out a couple of occasions when the EBU have shown their desire to act in order to make the contest a more level playing field.
The early- to mid-1990s are what I characterise as “the farting dog years”. Why? It was the time when Ireland could enter a farting dog and still win. Aside from this feeble joke (sorry), let’s look at the evidence:
1992: 1. Ireland 2. UK 3. Malta
1993: 1. Ireland 2. UK
1994: 1. Ireland
1996: 1. Ireland
1997: 1. UK 2. Ireland
1998: 2. UK
What did all of these high-flying acts have in common? The UK, Ireland and Malta were the only countries allowed to sing in English. The Norwegian winner in 1996 managed to get away with around twelve words of Norwegian, and Dana International (1998’s winner) had a chorus consisting of internationally recognisable historical figures. The EBU reacted by lifting the language rule. Since then, no one country has won the contest more than twice in 16 years.
During the mid-2000s, it seemed impossible that any West European country could make any headway, due to the East European phone-voting bloc. Then the EBU stepped in and reintroduced jury voting as 50%. Since then, decent west European songs have had a fair chance. Well, most of them, anyway.
1956: In the very first contest, in Lugano, Switzerland, no voting details whatsoever were released. The winner was merely announced at the end of the contest. Luxembourg’s national broadcaster was so skint (clearly this was before it became a tax haven) that it couldn’t afford to send jurors to Switzerland. Fortunately, the magnanimous hosts said they’d vote on their behalf (only seven countries participated, entering two songs each). Furthermore, juries were, for the only time, allowed to vote for their own country.
When the white smoke gushed forth, Switzerland were announced as winners.
Hmmm… not dodgy at all, obviously.
1963: When Norway initially gave their votes, they messed up the order in which they gave their votes, as it had to be done in scoreboard order (you can see it here). However, it could be clearly heard that their votes were: UK 5, Italy 4, Switzerland 3, Denmark 2, Germany 1. The scoreboard was updated as such, but with a promise that we would come back to Norway to confirm their votes at the end.
The end came with the scoreboard showing Switzerland as victors with 42 points against Denmark’s 40, in second place. However, we still had to go back to Norway for confirmation of their votes. This time, they were given in perfect scoreboard order, but with a slight difference (you can see it here): UK 5, Denmark 4, Italy 3, Germany 2, Switzerland 1). The effect was a correction of the scoreboard, putting Switzerland back on 40 points, behind Norway’s Nordic neighbours, suddenly boosted to 42. This result stood.
1968: In May 2008, a documentary by Spanish film-maker Montse Fernández Villa, 1968. Yo viví el mayo español, alleged that the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest was rigged by the Spanish dictator Franco, who allegedly sent state television officials across Europe offering cash and promising to buy television series and contract unknown artists.
This author’s opinion is that anything that annoys Cliff Richard (who would allegedly have won without the Francoist intervention) is no bad thing.
1993: According to The Complete Eurovision Song Contest Companion, “one head of a voting delegation was overheard offering ten or twelve points to any country whose jury would give top marks to his country’s entry”.
2002: The front-page headline of the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet the day after Eurovision was “DET VAR UPPGJORT!” (“IT WAS A FIX!”). Some of this could be put down to the relatively poor showing of the Swedish act Afro-Dite, having been a big favourite in the Swedish press. A Eurovision veteran told me that the 2002 voting stood out as perhaps the most corrupt ever (yes, I know – hearsay), although pointed out that this was not to the advantage of the surprise winner, Latvia.
None of this elongated rant means that I think the EBU Reference Group is infallible. I don’t. Having previously praised them for some of the changes made in the past, I still disagree with the change made before last year’s contest allowing producers to decide the running order. Although this was slightly improved by the decision to allocate top half/bottom half by means of a draw, I still think it leaves producers too open to allegations of bias.
Gav’s main beef is that the rule/process changes don’t go far enough. I can understand his frustration. However, we do not know how discussions behind closed doors went. Allowing only one vote per telephone seems fairer, certainly, but this may reduce a revenue source for some national broadcasters, at a time when some are withdrawing citing financial factors. The idea of just having one jury made up of international experts I disagree with. Giving 10-15 the same voting influence as millions of Europeans seems wrong to me, however “expert” or experienced the people involved.
Ultimately, the fact that the EBU has acted demonstrates that they are not merely trying to sweep the whole affair under the carpet. I also find it extremely encouraging that Sietse Bakker has taken the time to engage with us. If I wrote a blog post criticising FIFA (and let’s face it, there’s plenty to criticise, I wouldn’t expect to be personally contacted by Jérôme Valcke, the secretary-general.
We will see next year if the changes announced have been successful. However, there is no doubt that the EBU will be heavily scrutinising the results. Should similar irregularities occur, I am certain that further action will be taken. Let’s just wait and see. Whatever happens, I am sure that the EBU has the best interest of the Contest at heart.