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The EBU recently discussed the issue of cheating and as one of our writers has already reported, there was a lot of buzz around the internet about it. The EBU said it thoroughly investigated the allegations but couldn’t find enough evidence, and I trust that. There should be a high burden of proof because, while we want to punish cheaters, we’re also punishing the public of that country and it’s not their fault that the broadcaster cheated. I’m not saying broadcasters should get a free pass, but I support the EBU’s decision to say that if they find any evidence moving forward of cheating they will punish the offenders for 3 years. Now everyone clearly understands the consequences of any infractions. I hope that broadcasters or anyone else that might try to cheat will consider who they’re really hurting (i.e., their respective public).
One issue that I saw while reading the comments section about these new measures is bloc voting. On Eurovision’s website, Lakevic1 says:
This goes a small part of the way to fairness. Now all you have to do is stop the ‘neighbouring block’ and ‘obvious friends’ countries favouring each other which occurs every year. How do we vote for the song and not for the country? I leave it open for discussion……….
I don’t think you can fix this, and I don’t believe it’s really cheating to vote for a neighboring country. Neighbor or bloc voting is a reality of Eurovision. Even when looking at just the jury voting you see neighbor bias. The EBU has taken a reasonable step to minimize bloc voting by putting countries into different pots for the semi-finals and reintroducing the jury. Also, in defense of televoters, in my thesis I found that my measure of song quality/popularity (which admittedly has some deficiencies) was significant for every country, meaning on the country level, televoters actually vote based on quality. But yes, it’s true that they also vote for country-specific reasons. Unless there’s a way to come up with an objective measure of quality, I don’t think there’s much the EBU can do about people being biased.
Possible solutions to voting issues
Many people contributed their ideas for improving Eurovision voting. On the ESCunited forum, BGN commented that Bulgaria allows only one vote per person and that has limited bias. I understand this is a tough issue because more televotes means more money, and that’s obviously important. I have a friend who always votes for Sweden, but she uses a second televote to vote for her favorite song (if her favorite song isn’t from Sweden). So allowing multiple televotes mitigates some of that bias because otherwise she would just vote for Sweden!
On the other hand (and more realistically), allowing multiple votes per phone increases bias because, as BGN says in the comment, the people who are motivated to vote multiple times are likely people who for a specific country. True, these voters could balance each other out on the country level, but I think 20 votes from each phone has the potential to drown out the average voter. Also, multiple votes per phone makes it easier to cheat because you need fewer participants. With only one vote per phone it’s harder to influence a country’s votes, and to do so inconspicuously.
Another solution I’ve heard is to have only juries select which songs advance in the semi-finals. That would hypothetically make it so only quality songs are in the finals, since the juries are supposed to be less biased. However, it’s undemocratic because it shuts out the public. It’s also less profitable because you don’t have the televote. And there’s greater motivation and potential for the jury to be bought. Perhaps if the EBU mandated that jury members justify why they allocated their votes the way they did that could increase transparency. Still, though, I don’t think we should get rid of the televote for the semis.
An idea I have often thought about is letting televoters rank songs. As voting stands now televoters have an all or nothing vote, while the jury gets to rank songs. Yes, people can vote multiple times and therefore vote for more than one country, but each vote is essentially a 12 for one country and zero for others. This increases bias. If televoters could allocate 1-8, 10, and 12 points then we would see less bias because you could vote for your favorite song, neighboring country, and whichever other entries you liked.
This idea does not address the cheating concerns, but would, in my opinion, address some of the bias. I recognize this is challenging because average voters don’t want to text in 10 countries and I don’t know how it would work with telephoning voters. It would likely require online voting. I’m sure there are problems with this, but I think it allows people to better and more fully express their voting preferences.
Every voting system has its advantages and disadvantages, and there are always people who are going to find loopholes or try to beat the system. Overall, I think the EBU has done a good job addressing the voting issues. If the threat of a 3-year ban doesn’t deter cheating then the EBU should reevaluate and implement different and/or stricter policies. But, it’s a work in progress and we should see how these new measures play out.
Lastly, I know some people are mad that no one (Azerbaijan) was punished for cheating in 2013. If it’s any consolation, I’m sure the results this year are going to be heavily scrutinized and that many people will be less likely to vote for Azerbaijan because of this scandal. I’m not saying if it’s right or wrong (as it is a type of “political” voting), but I think televoters will be more reluctant.