The emergence of two Western European nations topping this year’s Eurovision Song Contest appears to have covered up what was another event of shady backdoor vote trading. Given the reams of data now made available by the EBU, I am amazed the UK press and main ESC websites have failed to report some of the blindingly obvious voting irregularities from this year’s Contest. The final result may not be in question, but that’s not the point. This persistent flouting of the rules not only damages the long term reputation of the Contest, it costs qualification and a strong final performance for some.
Not every country can win Eurovision, yet many nations take part hoping they’ll have a fair stab at qualification and earn the right to perform in front of 180-million worldwide viewers. Many of those countries struggle to afford the participation fee, not to mention the cost of flying, housing and feeding an entire delegation. Despite the pre-Contest fanfare, the new rules have failed to stop the annual vote swapping trade, which brings into question how useful the notaries and PwC observers actually are.
Treating this as a game of Cluedo, I’m not about to go recklessly accusing Reverend Green of doing something rather nasty with a candlestick to Professor Black in a secluded place in the mansion. What I point out below are just observations I believe warrant further investigation, and eventually, thorough explanation.
The split result only presents a collection of averages. It’s a fairly reliable piece of information that allows one to quickly identify televoter and jury behaviour in relation to each song. Once presented with the full voting breakdown, however, one might conclude that there’s a fertile black market operating behind the scenes.
Here’s a breakdown of the more obvious and questionable jury rankings:
Malta – Belarus
Malta’s recent close relationship with Azerbaijan has attracted widespread criticism after five consecutive years of the former awarding the latter maximum points in every final. After last year’s voting controversy involving Azerbaijan, it appears the Mediterranean republic lost their appetite for sending 12 points across the Caucasus’. That didn’t stop them making friends with other kids in the playground though.
One wouldn’t consider Belarus a natural friend of Malta, but that didn’t stop their jury ranking Firelight first in semi-final 2 and second in the final. Strangely, the love for all things Bayou didn’t extend to Switzerland, who were ranked tenth in the semi-final and 20th in final; Netherlands were ranked seventh.
Malta, bless them, seemingly returned the favour and ranked Belarus second in the semi-final and fourth in the final.
Incidentally, Belarus ranked Sweden 20th. In terms of musical taste, that doesn’t upset me, but the move looks very deliberate. In fact, apart from Greece, Malta and Netherlands, every Western nation has been ranked outside of the top-10, with some countries being clearly nobbled. Politics has obviously played a part here, but why are so called independent juries indulging in political engineering of the result?
Malta also employed a similar tactic in the final by ranking the Dutch entry 22nd. The Maltese viewers disagreed and ranked The Common Linnets fifth overall. Friends reunited time… Azerbaijan was ranked fifth by the jury and Russia seventh.
Possibly under political duress, Armenia’s jury decided to rank Ukraine 20th.
Malta – FYR Macedonia
If you want to guarantee 12 points, make sure you get a non-televote nation on board.
FYR Macedonia is certainly closer to Malta than Belarus, and admittedly, reading that their jury ranked Malta first in semi-final 2 didn’t shock. However, when that ranking dropped to seventh in the final, something didn’t ring true, as traditionally, jurors remain loyal to their semi-final favourites in the final.
The fog begins to clear when one refers to Malta’s jury scores from semi-final 2, where they ranked FYR Macedonia’s entry 4th. This is by no means a clear case of point swapping, but that FYRoM 12 in the semi-final just doesn’t look right.
Malta – Georgia
Malta again, I hear you say. You got it!
That fine melody from Georgia this year; the one awarded the grand total of 15 points was ranked third by Malta’s panel of musical experts (?). Georgia is about as close to Malta as Belarus, which is about as close as most Manchester United fans are to Old Trafford. Yet again, something doesn’t smell right.
Coincidentally, Georgia’s financ… (ahem!) musical experts ranked Malta third on their tally. Switzerland were again forgotten and ranked a lowly 12th.
Armenia – Malta
I have no problem with nations’ juries ranking Armenia high, as Aram MP3 delivered a strong jury final performance. What I do find suspicious though, is that the Armenian and Maltese juries decided to rank each other’s songs first and it seems to be another case of ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’. Kerching!
Montenegro – Armenia
That age-old relationship between two ancient allies… Or not.
Montenegro is another nation that struggles to meet the EBU’s televote threshold, so their jury is a prime target for countries wanting to come to an arrangement.
In the first semi-final, Armenia ranked Montenegro first. Not totally out of the ordinary, I hear you say. Maybe Armenia likes ballads. I guess they do, as they also ranked Belgium fourth. That theory falls apart when you notice the Armenian jury ranked Sweden 13th, which looks like another prearranged move. That arrangement was continued in the final too, when they ranked Sweden 22nd, yet love for Montenegro continued with Sergej’s song ranked second.
Looking at the Montenegrin jury’s results, they reciprocated Armenia’s love for Sergej and ranked Aram MP3 second in the semi-final and first in the final. Now this either suggests there’s a strong financial relationship between the two delegations, or an astonishing psychic bond.
Montenegro also ranked Sweden and Netherlands well outside of the top-10.
Azerbaijan – Hungary
Bit of a strange one here. I can understand Azerbaijan politically supporting Hungary after an Azeri officer was pardoned for murdering an Armenian soldier in Budapest. What I fail to comprehend is the Hungarian jury’s high ranking for Azerbaijan: second in both the semi-final and final. One to keep an eye on next year!
Hungary – San Marino
Another strange relationship here, but it’s one that deserves highlighting.
The Hungarian jury ranked San Marino fourth in the semi-final, but Valentina was promoted to third in the final. Curiously, in the semi-final, four of the Hungarian jury members ranked San Marino 3, 5, 10, 7; these points improved to 2, 2, 7, 3 in the final.
San Marino kindly returned the favour and ranked Hungary third in semi-final 1 and fourth in the final. These points alone wouldn’t raise suspicions, but Hungary’s affection for San Marino is interesting.
San Marino – Azerbaijan
This year’s bond between San Marino and Azerbaijan was only one way, but as with the connection mentioned above, the points oddly improved from the semi-final to the final.
In the semi-final, the Sammarinese jury ranked Azerbaijan: 7, 1, 3, 2, 3, which placed Azerbaijan second and earned them 10 points from the non-televote micro-nation.
For the final, the jury’s ranking for Azerbaijan was ordered: 3, 3, 1, 7, 3, which ensured Azerbaijan received San Marino’s 12 points. Azerbaijan eventually finished 22nd, which indicates how out of ordinary San Marino’s ranking was.
After this year’s Contest, the EBU announced that Georgia’s jury scores for the final had been annulled, as the jurors failed to vote independently. According to Aftonbladet, each of the five jurors had the same top 8 acts.
Prior to the Contest, the EBU were very vocal about the jury voting procedure being supervised by notaries and PwC representatives. If this plan was indeed intended to ensure a valid result, how were the Georgian jury allowed to breach the rules in the first place? Where were the notaries? Moreover, if there were systems in place to check the impartiality of each jury member, how come the jury scores from Belarus, Montenegro and Armenia were allowed to stand?
Let’s face it, if a jury wants to rig their scores, all they need to do is ensure at least one of the juror’s rankings differ. That appears to be what the three aforementioned nations did to varying degrees. I’m fairly certain more juries colluded in one way or another, which makes a mockery of the rules and means the Contest is pointless for those smaller nations competing for a respectable finish. I suspect jury collusion was more prolific last year, but here’s this year’s jury rankings for Montenegro, Belarus and Armenia:
The matter of vote trading sullies the EBU’s reputation by seemingly allowing these practices to contaminate the Eurovision brand, even though the EBU are fundamentally powerless to prevent it.
It is widely accepted in the Eurovision press community that these deals are struck at the various pre-Contest events, way before the notaries and PwC representatives get involved. So essentially, the EBU are fighting an unwinnable war and would be better overhauling the jury system as a whole.
A Few Proposals
The last two contests have identified a disconnect between the televoters and juries. It seems that regional identity songs are now being punished in favour of safe, middle-of-the-road entries. Last year witnessed Montenegrin group, Who See, fall foul of the new ranking system; and despite being ranked fourth in the televote, the popular song was unceremoniously cast aside by the national juries who ranked Igranka 14th out of 16 entries.
Likewise, Koza Mostra’s fourth place on the televote was hampered by the juries who ranked Greece 14th on average.
This year, Poland entered a song that had already gone viral on YouTube, having attracted over 40-million views. During both jury rehearsals and live shows, Cleo’s vocal was superb and the visual impression of My Słowianie was miles ahead of many other nations’ songs. Poland was ranked fifth on the televote, but the juries cost Donatan & Cleo an excellent result by ranking them 23rd.
It’s understandable that each nation’s jury will reward songs that align with their own musical tastes. However, the time has come for Eurovision to start recognising and rewarding new or alternative musical influences in line with the millions of viewers that support and enjoy these genres.
As mentioned above, the new ranking system promotes conformity, so where will Eurovision be in five years if the current jury guidelines remain in place? Will Eurovision’s fun element drain away leaving a suicidal 90 minutes of generic ballads and Scandie-pop? Possibly not, but where would Eurovision be without Verka, Jedward, the Russian Grannies and Donatan & Cleo?
I suggest altering the current marking criteria to promote regional songs, which should in turn encourage diversity and ensure Eurovision remains a truly European contest that is both entertaining and relevant to all areas of Europe.
A New Jury
I think even the most ardent supporters of the jury system will be disappointed by the details published in this article. There will be those who will dismiss the revelations on the basis they don’t affect the overall winner. Hopefully, most people who read this will recognise that the jury system in its current form is broken and fails to ensure a fair result for all involved, whether they win, finish 20th or fail to qualify. As an international contest watched by over 180-million people, the Eurovision brand has to carry respect, and unfortunately, there are a group of nations operating an underground cartel for their own financial or megalomaniacal ambitions.
Last year I suggested that the EBU should disband the national juries, as in some cases, they are paid lackeys of their respective broadcasters, and in some nations, the broadcasters are arms of the government.
In place of the 40+ national juries, I proposed a panel of 10-15 international musical experts and academics that would produce a single score carrying the same 50% weighting. The jury would operate as a single body, so jury members would debate how each nation would be ranked. Importantly, after the final, the head juror would produce a report justifying the group’s decision process.
In my opinion, this is a transparent and impartial jury system that removes any potential interference from broadcasters and any other external parties that seek to assert influence over the result. It also prevents a nation’s jury ranking their allies higher than they deserve and their enemies as low as possible.
The juries are an important component of the Eurovision Song contest and returning to a pre-2008 televote-only existence is not an option; the influence of diaspora and risk of power-voting is too great, which is why 50% of the vote should remain with a fair and impartial jury.
What are you thoughts about this year’s voting? Do you think the juries need overhauling? Do countries need punishing?