Just when you thought things were starting to die down, the Eurovision Song Contest vote rigging controversy saga adds another piece of anonymously sourced information to an already long list of allegations.
Torbjörn Wester of Swedish news organization Skånska Dagbladet reported Sunday on an undisclosed source from a national delegation at the 2013 contest who revealed new information about the cheating scandal. The source alleged that they were approached by the delegations of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, and an unnamed Southern European country, all who wished to exchange votes in exchange for a substantial amount of money or press. Ljupcho Mirkovski of the Macedonian delegation denies the allegations and further accuses the source of defamation.
Sietse Bakker, Event Supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest, later told Skånska Dagbladet that vote rigging accusations have been around since the contest’s conception in 1956, but that there had never been any hard proof. He also added that power-voting and buying votes were technically not illegal, but that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)’s systems are able to detect and eliminate these votes.
The news, as well as Bakker’s interview, was translated into English by 12points.tv which then spread across Twitter where fans were furious yet unsurprised; there already are, after all, a number of other alleged anomalies already in discussion:
Soon after this year’s Grand Final in Malmö in May, Lithuanian news site 15min.lt posted a video which showed what appeared to be two Russian-speaking men openly bribing some Lithuanians to vote for the entry from Azerbaijan. The source, university student Laurynas Liutkus, later came forward and gave more details about how the operation happened. Event Supervisor Bakker said that this case is still under scrutiny in the interview with Skånska Dagbladet mentioned above, but that the combination of summer holidays and unreliable information have given the investigation some delays.
That same week, a report from News.az said that officials from Azerbaijan protested their country’s vote count, with President Ilham Aliyev himself giving the order to investigate. Azerbaijan had failed to give Russia any points. Polad Bulbuloglu, Azeri Ambassador to Russia, even threatened to pull Azerbaijan from the competition if the results were not corrected by the EBU, according to a later article. The Belarusian Telegraph Agency also reported that President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was unhappy with the results.
To add fuel to the fire, the split televote/jury results released by the EBU did not offer any clarity to the issue.
Much more inconsistency, allegation, and speculation surfaced over the few days following Denmark’s win in May, some of which has already been documented here on ESC United. There is also this timeline from 12points.tv and a compilation by Eurovisionista of the controversies. It seems as if these scandals currently have no end in sight, and the fans know there definitely is something afoot. Whether these allegations are true or not makes no difference: the fans are losing confidence in the integrity of the contest’s results. This begs the question: what can be done to bring the Eurovision Song Contest’s reputation back?
A Revamped Jury System
From reports and voting analyses, it seems that the easiest way to cheat at Eurovision is to mess with the jury system. Under the current rules, jury votes comprise half of a country’s total vote, the other half being votes through phone or SMS. Each jury consists of only 5 people. One major concern from fans is that these 5 jurors have as much power as an entire voting populace. Many find this unfair, while a number consider it necessary to balance well-produced, technically superb songs with the hyped-up radio-friendly pop that usually gets the popular vote. However, the fact that there is a very small jury makes it easier for outside influences to tip the scales in their favor.
There are three major things that the EBU and its national broadcasters should do: release the names of the members of each national jury, reveal the complete split vote results, and increase the number of jurors. Transparency will serve to keep irregularities out of the picture, what with thousands more attentive eyes being able to look at the data, and more jurors means each one has less influence over the total vote. RAI, Italy’s national broadcaster, for example, released both full split results and the names of their jury. From that alone, some fansites were able to provide analysis on the results: ESCInsight posted a deconstruction of the results, and Wiwi Bloggs reported that the Italian Jury did not satisfy the official Eurovision rules for jury composition. Juries will be less encouraged to accept bribes with full transparency, and the choice of jurors would be less affected by internal politics.
One other major concern fans have over this latest piece to the puzzle is that the Skånska Dagbladet’s source was unnamed, and, judging from Sietse Bakker’s comments, has not approached the EBU to report the anomalies. In addition to the source’s anonymity, the third country being accused was also not named. The lack of details will definitely make any investigation difficult to start. Sources must be willing to either be named in the press, or go directly to the EBU.
Fans also play a part in critically looking at Eurovision-related media and beware of unfounded claims. Earlier this year, the Eurovision fan press jumped on a rumor started by an unreliable paper claiming that 2013 Macedonian representative Esma ranted using homophobic slurs, which she and her representatives denied vehemently. Many Eurovision fansites are quick to post information, often leaving out quality control and verification, which often gets facts mixed up. One of the worst things that could come out of controversies such as the cheating scandal are false accusations; they only serve to hurt the innocent. While it is important that the EBU investigate and hold cheaters accountable, the fans should do their part by reading the Eurovision press critically and not jumping to conclusions. Also, without substantial proof, fans should remember to keep the accused innocent until proven guilty.
While those alleged of wrongdoing are worthy of scrutiny, the allegations themselves should not be exempt. Politics plays a huge part in Eurovision, whether people admit it or not, and some accusations could be false ones stemming from political rivalry (at least within the context of the contest).
Making Power Voting A Punishable Offense (update below)
Another comment from Sieste Bakker’s interview that surely raised some eyebrows was the fact that power voting, including mass voting for a certain entry or even buying votes, is not illegal. While Bakker has confidence in the Eurovision voting system, saying that these mass votes are detectable and removed before the final tally, there is still the moral dilemma of letting cheaters get away without even a slap on the wrist. Even if power voting in a talent show like Eurovision is not illegal in any country, the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest should be amended to include sanctions on countries who are proven to engage in such underhanded tactics. How else will these unscrupulous events be avoided if there is no punishment?
UPDATE: Bakker clarifies in a personal correspondence that Power Voting is punishable under the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest. However, the EBU’s power only extends to its member broadcasters, and cannot give sanctions to those who are not confirmed to be explicitly working for these networks.
“We cannot impose the rules on a crook in the streets of Vilnius, with no proven ties to a participating broadcaster,” said Bakker. “As soon as we have proof that they work on behalf of a participating broadcaster, we will act.”
Hopefully, in the coming months leading up to the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 in Copenhagen, fans and officials alike will get satisfactory answers to the big questions on everyone’s minds.
Do you have your own ideas on what the EBU should do with these allegations? What do you think of the issues currently facing the integrity of the Eurovision Song Contest? Discuss with us on the forums or in the comments below. Keep watching ESC United for more developments.