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Congrats Conchita, But Again, The Voting Stinks

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.images

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.

Jury Collusion

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:

Montenegro

 

Montenegro's Jury Ranking
Montenegro’s Jury Ranking – How was this not voided?

Belarus

Belarus' Jury Ranking
Belarus’ Jury Ranking

 

Armenia

Armenian Jury Ranking
Armenian Jury Ranking – not as obvious as the former two nations.

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

Regional/Modern Songs

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.

Joanna Klepko of Donatan & Cleo
Joanna Klepko of Donatan & Cleo

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?

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About Gavster

Owner & Chief Editor   I’m a qualified designer and the official geek in the crew, dedicating most of my free time to keeping the ESCtips show on the road. My family routes allow me to support the UK, Ireland and Italy.

25 comments

  1. “Georgia is about as close to Malta as Belarus, which is about as close as most Manchester United fans are to Old Trafford.”

    OIIIII!!! 😛

  2. Top rate analysis. Endebted. You should share this as widely as possible.

  3. Also Romania and moldova, romania was first in all jurys votes, the jurys don’t stop political voting at all

  4. I think it’s quite obvious that jury collusion exists, and that it’s more widespread from some nations than others. But I think the case being made here is weakened by including some cases that are very far from obvious (as is also pointed out in the article). A few random examples:

    “What I do find suspicious though, is that the Armenian and Maltese juries decided to rank each other’s songs first”.
    Considering they finished 5th and 6th respectively in the jury total, it would be very strange if trades like these didn’t occur by random chance. In general, I don’t find it to indicate very much when entries that are generally ranked high, also are ranked high from possible rouge nations.

    “Possibly under political duress, Armenia’s jury decided to rank Ukraine 20th”.
    Isn’t this a bit far-fetched? If any jury would be under political duress to slam Ukraine, I guess it should be Mother Russia’s. They ranked them 6th.

    “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”.
    Surely a point increase from 10p to 12p isn’t all that odd? I’m pretty sure we’ve seen way weirder change of tastes before, and in situations that don’t really raise suspicion.

    “Coincidentally, Georgia’s financ… (ahem!) musical experts ranked Malta third on their tally”.
    And on average, they were ranked fifth. Surely a third doesn’t say much then? If I would trade votes, I honestly wouldn’t be ashamed of placing them first – it’s not like it would stick out that much anyway.

    Regarding jury taste, I think it’s fair to say that if it didn’t differ overall from the televoters’, it would make no sense employing juries at all. And the mentions of Jedward and the Russian grannies don’t seem fair, as they weren’t really punished by juries (Jedward even scored higher with juries than televoters).

    As for Poland, as much as I personally loved the song, well… what made me blush weren’t the tits on display, but the totally shameless sexism. Such a catchy song simply didn’t need to be sold with soft-porn and lyrics about how Slavic girls are good at “using their beauty”. And from a prediction perspective (which is what we are all about, after all): anyone who was surprised by the juries slamming Poland? Really? If there’s anything juries are clearly good for imo, it’s punishing cheap and calculated gimmicks (and it should probably happen more than it does, rather than less).

    The suggestion for change in jury system is interesting! But wouldn’t it risk leaving too much influence on the outcome in the hands of very few (even in comparison with today’s system) hands?

    • I think the Armenia-Malta example is one of the most clear. When you assess the ranking against the other 24 songs, it just doesn’t ring true and both nations have form for this.

      San Marino-Azerbiajian: When you look at the full spreadsheet, it doesn’t look right. I agree the 10p to 12p transition doesn’t amount to much though, but in the context of the final and given both have past form; in my opinion, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

      With Georgia-Malta, I agree, if Georgia liked Malta’s song there’s nothing wrong with ranking it high, but again, it’s the return gesture from Malta that makes this exchange smell funny.

      With the taste issue: I just think it’s about time juries returned to recognising regional music or new modern genres. I expected Poland to do badly with the juries, but given their song was already a hit, I’m surprised the juries ranked them as low as 23rd on average. Eurovision felt very mundane this year and I think the contest is gradually creeping towards 40+ very safe and samey songs. I believe Eurovision needs to accommodate and recognise musical diversity.

      An international jury appointed by the EBU and not answerable to national broadcasters is a massive step forward. Plus, they all put together the 1-26 ranking. The whole jury would need buying to fix the result. And with academics on the jury, they’d have a hard time arguing their point if the song was shit, or they had political links to a certain nation they were trying to rank highly.

      • I agree with you that it’s likely at least some of the cases I quoted were indeed foul play – just very hard to prove… unlike some of the more blatant cases this and other years.

        Regarding Poland, it has for some reason only ever been a hit in its home land. The YouTube views were almost exclusively from Poland, and its charting after the semi (and the final) was poor to disastrous (especially for a song type that should own the iTunes lists). Surely such charting doesn’t indicate a global commercial hit?

        That being said, I’m convinced the juries’ problems with it weren’t primarily musical, but that it would have scored better than 23rd with juries if they’d toned down the boob-fest ever so slightly. Then again, it would likely have finished worse with televoters, in total ending up around where it did anyway…

  5. I had considered one single panel of jurors chosen by the EBU, but there’s one thing that then makes things difficult. The sole reason the jurors were brought back was to level out the playing field and reduce the predictability of the voting process. If we only have one central jury, you can’t mix their votes with the televotes – so you then have a shitty predictable televote followed by a jury seperately declaring their votes and potentially overturning the public result enormously.

    You could do it the other way round and have the televoters all deliver a joint result after 40-odd juries in each country announce, Melfest style, but then that doesn’t solve the problem of a fair and exciting Eurovision voting process if jurors are corrupt.

    Juries need to be mixed with each country’s vote in order for their whole use to remain valid.

  6. Nice work, Gavster, but it’s really disappointing to discover that the whole system stinks! ESC was invented to try and promote European unity, not encourage political horse-trading. A single jury could still be easily nobbled/bought/influenced, in fact it would probably be easier (and cheaper). Why not “suspend membership” of (i.e. kick out) the countries who are obviously buying votes? It would give them an extra year to come up a decent song (miaow!).

  7. Armenian jury put all of the winner contenders way down, they really wanted to win this year. But it’s shameful how calculated their jury voting was
    Excellent article btw!

  8. What about stopping with the winner country host the Eurovision?
    What if the Eurovision will be hosted every year by another country so all get a chance to host and the winner let’s say will be part of the big five the year after.

    Is it all about hosting the Eurovision ?
    Or about having a fair chance to win. A great party and a big festival.

    I vote for a change in the system!!!

    • This year, it didn’t effect the sharp end of the scoreboard, but I believe trading has affected the result of the top-4 a few times over the last 5 years. This year we have access to more data and it’s startling how some of these professional juries divvy up their rankings.

      Hosting the contest should still be the main prize, but I have been told that other nations are on standby should a smaller country win the contest. As I said in the article though, for some it’s not about winning, it’s about satisfying their megalomaniacal fantasies.

  9. Btw gav would you know if san marino has any sort of relationship with the ex soviet states as san marino did surprisingly well in the tele vote in countries like azerbaijan.

  10. Its ironic but the juries are now more biased than the televoters.

    The idea someone can top the televote yet get no points (Poland in the UK) is crazy.

    One jury is not a good idea though.At least with multiple juries you get a broad spread of opinion.One jury would be a disaster.

    The EBU should select the juries though in each country.The jurors should not know who the other jurors are.The only people who should know who the jurors are are the EBU.

    Looking at the jury scoring this year ESC is more corrupt than ever.We could be looking at a lot of no shows next year followed by another bland contest.

  11. San Marino are a micro-state so can’t meet the televote threshold. Therefore, their jury can be targeted for vote trading. Obviously, whether or not that has happened in the past is down to the EBU to prove.

    • okay something seriously needs to be done about this, imo if a country like san marino have such a small tele vote to the point where they don’t reach a threshold then just kick them out altogether. i feel we also need to go back to 100% tele voting as jurys are still bloc voting, also the jurys are being biased towards malta all the time everyone said that malta and switzerland had the same kind of song… how malta is 6th in jurys and switzerland is like 22nd is baffling and shows that malta are just simply loved by jurys and with the new way of counting votes basically its impossible for malta not to qualify. i also feel that its stupid that 4 people on a panel get the same amount of power as an in tire population.

  12. i also feel that some countries jury members will mark another countries song quite low if country A know that theres a large diaspra from country B, E.g Belgiums jury marked armenia last, ireland and uk marked poland last. these are some examples and there are probably more out there that i haven’t noticed yet

  13. It is absurd that the points are based on ranking, rather than perceived quality of the individual entry. It would be better to use a system closer to that used in international sporting events, such as diving, skating, gymnastics, etc. If more than one song deserves the highest points, they should receive it. The single jury idea is good, but the notion that the jury will agree on a verdict is naïve. Instead, as with the sports judging rules, votes at the extremes should be eliminated from the tally (transparently of course). So, say, with one juror per country, only the middle 65% of jurors votes for a given country would be tallied (e.g. 24 out of 37, based on 2014’s participants). The televote would be the same, I.e. only the middle 24 would be counted for a given country, but the scores allocated would either be on a set curve, or be as per the jury vote by value (but not necessarily by ranking). Sounds complicated, I know. But if sports bodies can cope with it, surely the EBU can too. And it would thwart vote swaps and diaspora quirks and (alleged) vote buying in a fell swoop. Jon Ola? Are you listening?

    • I like that idea: that votes/rankings are only taken from the middle of the curve, or that rankings well outside of a predetermined average are discounted.

  14. Very interesting article! The only problem remains to find out which jury votes are just ‘strange’ and which ones are really unfair. For example, the Dutch jury put Iceland on number 1 in the semi-final, which was remarkable, but I don’t really think Iceland bought those votes. Similarly, in the final, 3 jury members in Ukraine put Germany on number 1, after a German jury-rehearsal which was not the most successful in Eurovision history.

    But in general, I agree with the feeling that the votes from many jury members are based on other things than the song quality only. I think the least thing that the EBU should do, is returning to the situation where only the Top 10’s of the juries and televoters count.

  15. after all the complaints there have been with the voting this year i think the ebu might opt to change it for next year xD

  16. With all due respect, what a load of quasi mathematical nonsense, conspiracy theory nonsense.

    • Thanks for that brief critique, Lawrence, and I detected little respect. Not being an expert in all things mathematical, maybe you could calculate the chance of five individual Montenegrin jury members’ opinions aligning so closely?

  17. another interesting vote was that all 3 baltics gave the “Douze point” to the netherlands.

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