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Another Year, Another Voting Dispute

Once again, the EBU faces another jury points scandal as highlighted in two articles by Wiwibloggs. However, Sieste Bakker responds to our questions and indirectly suggests other reasons behind the EBU’s action against Montenegro. We’ll also assess the EBU response and compare it to last year’s, in addition to questioning the EBU’s regulatory processes.

Shortly after this year’s Eurovision final, the EBU released the following statement:

The jury results of F.Y.R. Macedonia and Montenegro for the Grand Final have been excluded after consultation of PwC, the contest’s independent voting observer, and upon the decision of the Executive Supervisor and the Chairman of the Reference Group. 

In both countries, televoting applied for 100%. The exclusion of two juries will be further discussed in the next Reference Group meeting in June.

The Rules:

The EBU’s rules state that jurors should submit their rankings independently and not collude, or be influenced by other members of the jury. To enforce this rule, a local PricewaterhouseCoopers notary supervises each national jury.

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Montenegro fights back:

Yesterday, WiwiBloggs published two articles relating to the Montenegrin controversy. The first reports on a letter from the Head of Delegation, Sabrija Vulic, to Jon Ola Sand, Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, disputing the grounds over which Montenegro’s jury scores were disqualified, while threatening further action if the decision isn’t overturned. Read the article in full here.

The second article sees Montenegro’s jury points plotted on a chart and compared to those from Azerbaijan, in addition to highlighting irregularities from other Eurovision nations. What’s clear is that Azerbaijan’s jury scores show greater alignment than Montenegro’s. Read the article in full here.

Sietse Bakker Comments:

With those irregularities in mind, I asked Event Supervisor, Sietse Bakker to comment on why Azerbaijan’s jury score wasn’t annulled from this year’s final.

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Sieste responded: “There is no such thing as a threshold. Every jury vote is individually evaluated based on numerous variables, both numerical as well as other findings and observations.”

In reply I asked: “I think it would benefit both the EBU and the reporting press if the audit process was made public. What similarities are measured etc.? With such an opaque method, the likes of Montenegro could feel hard done by when the practice appears so widespread.”

Sietse argued that: “This is a bit like building a vault and then publish[sic] the blueprints.”

I added: “A Montenegrin executive has every right to feel aggrieved having looked at Azer’s jury points. Fairness is the point here, especially given Azer’s history. And also highlighting that they really shouldn’t have qualified – points from Czechs were suspect.”

Sietse finished by stating: “I understand that response, but one cannot compare situations based on just these lists.”

In defence of the EBU’s action against Montenegro, it is important to highlight what Sietse actually said above:

Every jury vote is individually evaluated based on numerous variables, both numerical as well as other findings and observations.”

Despite the protestations from their Head of Delegation, Montenegro’s jury scores may have been annulled due to observations by the PwC notaries, and not as a result of similarities between each jury member’s rankings, which might explain why Azerbaijan escaped unpunished. However, as I’ll point out below, Montenegro has credibility issues when it comes to jury scoring.

Irregularities in process:

Sietse was not able to provide an explanation detailing why Azerbaijan’s jury scores were not annulled. Sietse said that: “one cannot compare situations based on just these lists.” The lists of jury points published by the EBU are in fact extremely revealing, and on face value, provide enough evidence to imply collusion and potential malpractice.

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I have no axe to grind with Azerbaijan. Sweden writes great music for them to enter into the Contest, but Jon Ola Sand admitted there were problems after the 2013 power-voting scandal, despite early denials. Moreover, they were one of several nations (Montenegro included) to escape punishment over questionable jury rankings in Copenhagen, where Georgia was the only country to have their scores cancelled. In fact, Montenegro’s 2014 jury scores were more closely aligned than those annulled in Vienna. You can read our full 2014 analysis here.

Wiwibloggs wrote to Sietse Bakker after last year’s contest asking him to explain why Georgia was the only nation to have its jury scores annulled. He duly responded:

“To invalidate a vote, either jury or televoting, is a very serious measure with a lot of implications, which we don’t take lightly. In the case of Georgia, there was a clear and immediate reason to invalidate votes, based on the recommendation of PwC and our voting partner Digame. In case of the other countries you mentioned – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Montenegro – the jury votes are more spread. It is clear that there is strong unity in their rankings, we saw that as well, but they were not indisputably invalid. That’s why PwC, Digame and the EBU decided to consider the result valid.

Regarding your analysis of the Armenian vote, these results leave a lot of room for speculation, but it is not a result that is indisputably invalid either. I would suggest you ask AMPTV and the jury members to give an explanation.”

The full letter can be read here.

Following the publication of the Wiwibloggs letter last year, I debated with Sietse on Twitter and argued for a tolerance/threshold to prevent, or limit, jury collusion.

In this exchange, Sietse implies a tolerance system is in place, but in last night’s exchange, the Contest Supervisor clearly stated that such a threshold doesn’t exist. This suggests the EBU are either dealing with jury rule breaches in an ad hoc fashion, or, as Sietse stated last night, no threshold system exists. Therefore, the EBU are either failing to execute the standards of fair play and impartiality, or as I tweeted in 2014: “the governance is indisputably inadequate“.

Countries will be banned:

Before the 2014 Contest, the EBU announced that countries could be banned for up to three-years if they were found to have indulged in vote-rigging practices. One might conclude that jury collusion is a form of vote-rigging, so why are Georgia still in the Contest following their 2014 indiscretion?

If Montenegro’s and FYRoM’s jury scores were annulled because of collusion, will the nations have their Eurovision membership revoked?

Furthermore, if similarities between the five jury members was indeed the reason for Montenegro incurring the EBU’s wrath, surely Azerbaijan’s future participation should be questioned? Obviously, this move would result in a signifiant reduction in funds to the EBU.

More transparency and more regulation:

The EBU’s recent conversion to transparency has to be applauded, but we need greater clarification on why nations’ jury scores are being annulled, in addition to how rule breaches are being punished.

Once the Eurovision winner has been announced, the media spotlight fades rapidly. Only the fan community bothers to pore over the detail of jury and televote scoring. But that shouldn’t lessen the EBU’s commitment to communicating and managing negative news.

Arguably, had Europe’s newspapers not seized on the 2013 vote-rigging scandal, I doubt Jon Ole Sand would have been forced into performing such a public volte face.

To maintain confidence in Eurovision’s framework of rules and to preserve a culture of fair play, there has to be greater scrutiny and accountability afforded to the process by which jury scores are recorded.

It is unsurprising that five jury members might reach similar conclusions over the best and worst songs. However, some of the jury rankings somewhat stretch the laws of probability. I’ll wager that you have more chance of being struck by lightning than the kind of rankings we’ve been getting from groups of five supposedly independent jury members.

In the meantime, Montenegro waits for an official response from the EBU.

Having read the draft, Sietse wanted to add the following:

“Transparency, as long as it doesn’t weaken the safety measures in place, is good, and we welcome the serious debate in the fan community. These discussions contribute to an even better voting system, which is likely never finished, but can only improve year after year.” 

Please share your comments below.

 

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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.

8 comments

  1. Corrupt juries alongside incompetent ones slowly killing ESC.

    FIFA would be proud of the EBU thats for sure.

    Still at least we have televoters to try to stop the corrupt and/or incompetent juries.

    Wasnt it supposed to be the other way around though?

  2. Sooner or later it’s going to happen that only a few points decide the winner. Imagine a western country losing to an eastern country by two points. The journalists would destroy the EBU. Remember Jarmo Siim?

    They really need to find a way to sort this out before that happens. At least go back to the old 50/50 system, which would solve some of their problems.

    But they do deserve credit for transparency.
    And so does Gav for another great article.

    #Linköping2016

    • I agree,the old 50/50 system was far better.I think they should look at a 70/30 or 60/40 split as well.
      They need to stop novelty winning,but still allow televoters to enjoy themselves.
      Sanremo went down that road this year and worked out perfectly.The reason they did it was because juries there had become too highbrow and it was costing viewers.With the changes, the jury winner rightly made the podium,the televote winner still won and the top five was varied but fully deserved.In effect it made sure a good televote favourite would win,the best jury song makes top 3 at least and can still win,and well delivered popular songs take the top places.The system also delivered the ESC televote winner.
      The EBU should look at that as i think a split that favours the public by just enough, with stronger transparency would make a far better contest.

      • I disagree on the 70/30 or 60/40 split – the weighting should always be equal. Otherwise, the opinion of the juries is undermined.

        Even though the jury opinion didn’t match that of the public, that shouldn’t imply the system is broke. The juries overruled the public in Melfest 2013 and that system is still working fine.

  3. Great piece Gav.

    One query…..only Azerbaijan jury votes under suspicion? I thought with Armenia, all the jurists returned the favour to Baku by placing Azerbaijan in 25th position. I could never quite comprehend why Montenegro and FYROM were being singled out when there appeared to be, on the fact of it, two worse offenders.

    • Well that’s what I pointed out in the article; the EBU hasn’t given the exact reason why Montenegro’s & FYRoM’s jury scores were annulled. If the EBU came out and stated it was due to the rankings being too closely aligned, then yes, Azerbaijan and others would be more deserving of a reprimand.

      Even so, Montenegro are in no position to cry foul play, given their 2014 form and alleged points trades in previous years. It’s as absurd as Azerbaijan complaining about another nation buying votes.

  4. The jury votes of the final (as published on Wiwibloggs) don’t look really suspicious. At least not as much as the jury votes from Montenegro in the semi final. The 5 jurors all had the same 8 countries in their Top 8, even putting the same countries in the Top 3, on 4-5 and on 6-7-8th position.

    On top of that it might be worth mentioning that the jury from Montenegro gave 10 points to Malta, the jury from Malta gave 10 points to Azerbaijan, and the jury from Azerbaijan gave 10 points to Montenegro again.

    Maybe Montenegro should have been punished in the semi-final already, but was their no possibility to do so for the EBU, as the televoting treshold hadn’t been reached?

    • Montenegro didn’t have a sufficient televote threshold in the semi-final, so if their jury scores were deemed inadmissible, the EBU would have had a major problem on their hands.

      You do make an excellent point though, which backs up what I said in the article: “Montenegro has credibility issues when it comes to jury scoring”.

      Here’s what Peter is reporting…

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