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Eurovision Voting: An Alternative View

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.

Simon Cowell's Machiavellian manipulations are the bedrock of the X-Factor brand.
Simon Cowell’s Machiavellian manipulations are the bedrock of the X-Factor brand.

2. Diplomacy

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?

3. Proof

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.

As the ESCtips resident historian, I should also point out that we’ve come a long way, and that voting controversies and Eurovision have gone hand-in-hand since the start.

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.

sietse_bakker
EBU Event Supervisor, Sietse Bakker

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.

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About ScandieAndy

Editor, Eurovision Historian & Scandinavian Expert.    I’m a London-based translator born a few months after ABBA won in Brighton. I’m gifted with a brain full of miscellaneous useless pieces of Eurovision information. My long-suffering wife tolerates this and many of my anti-social foibles.

2 comments

  1. Great article Andy.

    I agree with most of it.Perhaps our ages mean we remember when ESC nearly fell apart in the past and the EBU did work hard and saved the competition.
    We can also say that it is now a much better contest than it has ever been.

    As it was set up to help make sure Europeans learned to enjoy each others differences and stop killing 20 million every two decades we can say its worked.

    There is a very serious problem though mostly involving Eastern emerging countries that needs solving.

    Im with you 100% on still having different juries but Gav does have a very good point that the delegations selecting them is probably a very bad idea.
    Perhaps the EBU could select for each country?.

    I also don’t buy the revenue excuse for allowing 20 votes per phone.I can understand allowing more than one of course but not 20.That needs reducing to 2 of 3 per song per phone.Its a no brainer.

    Many countries are pulling out mentioning financial reasons yes,but how many feel it just isn’t worth entering due to cheating?.Hard to quantify but im certain its a factor in withdrawing sometimes.

  2. Cheers for the praise, Durhamborn.

    The revenue factor regarding phone voting was complete speculation on my part – I have no contacts within the EBU.

    Personally I’m not sure that cheating would be a factor in certain countries withdrawing, although geographical and political voting (i.e. not having enough friends voting for them) could well be. The nature of Eurovision means that the playing field will never be completely level, particularly when certain member countries neither like nor trust each other. Turkey’s series of top-three finishes a few years ago could be attributed to the huge Turkish diaspora voting patriotically in other countries. Is that cheating? If it is, then the (relatively) large vote from the UK to Ireland every year should also count as cheating.

    Not sure the EBU has the time or resources to hand-pick each country’s jury.

    Anyway, all of this is just my opinion. I could be (and often am) wrong.

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