The views expressed in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of ESC United, its editorial board, its readers, or any other person, entity, or organization.

My view with Eurovision has always been “the more, the merrier,” and I’m happy that more countries are confirming their participation for 2015. But, I need to add a stipulation to that sentiment – I don’t believe in the more the merrier at the expense of the fairness of the competition. I know that Eurovision isn’t always fair in the sense that there are issues with the voting system and some things are “political” (or cultural, social, or what-have-you).

This year, the EBU nullified Georgia’s jury voting results for the final because all five jurors had the same top 8, which, statistically speaking, has a lower probability of occurring than me winning the contest. I agree with the EBU that those votes should not count, but I disagree with the EBU’s decision not to suspend Georgia, because, in my opinion, the jury cheated.

 

What Constitutes Cheating?
Following the allegations that Azerbaijan bought votes in 2013, the EBU took a tougher stance on cheating and made the contest more transparent, e.g., releasing split votes and publishing the names of the national jurors. After reading the Eurovision 2014 rules, though, I couldn’t find a clear definition of “cheating.” The rules say:

If it appears that votes are casted only in the intent to abuse the voting system or to false the final results or have not been undertaken in accordance with the Green Document, the EBU Permanent Services, in consultation with the Pan-European televoting partner, the independent auditor of the voting process and the chairman of the Reference Group reserve the right to remove such votes for allocating the ranks.

The rules also say that jurors must sign a declaration saying they “undertake to vote independently.” The 2015 rules (perhaps in response to the Georgia incident) highlight the importance of jurors voting independently with a new paragraph: “Each Participating Broadcaster shall ensure that its National Jury is fully independent and votes in total impartiality. It shall cooperate with the EBU and the independent auditor in connection with all matters regarding National Jury voting.” But there’s nothing in the rules that says “A country cheats if it does x, y, or z…”

In February 2014, the EBU said that if they detect voting irregularities the Reference Group would automatically initiate procedures to exclude the participating broadcaster from the contest for up to three consecutive years. According to Dr. Frank Dieter Freiling, chairman of the Reference Group, “Just as football clubs are in principle accountable for the behaviour of their fans, we will hold – on a case-by-case basis – participating broadcasters accountable and make them responsible to prevent voting irregularities in favour of their entry.”

 

Did the Georgian Jury Cheat?
Given the unlikelihood that Georgia’s judges would have the same top 8 for the Grand Final, especially because they had different ranks in the semi-final, I would argue the results are not independent, which, for me, means that Georgia cheated. (True, this is not a random ranking of songs; so it’s possible the jurors would have the same preferences, but it’s unlikely.) At the very least, this should constitute a “voting irregularity,” but I can’t say that it was “in favor of their entry.”

semi votes
Georgia’s jury results from the semifinal. The Georgian televote did not count so only the jury was used.

For starters, Georgia did not make the final, so the jury couldn’t have voted in favor of the Georgian entry during the final. And if that’s the EBU’s benchmark for what constitutes cheating, then Georgia did not cheat, and the EBU’s response, which is consistent with the rulebook, was appropriate. We don’t know how the judges voted; we just know that their top 8 were the same (and I would note that some of countries’ jury votes the EBU did release were suspiciously similar, so I’m assuming Georgia’s rankings are really suspicious). It would be helpful to know how they voted because maybe their votes benefitted another country, which – in the hypothetical case that they were “asked” to vote a certain way – would be a pretty good clue about who benefitted from their votes (and that country/those countries also should be investigated).

 

What Should be Done?
Regardless of whether the Georgian jurors acted in favor of the Georgian entry, the EBU should have done more than cancel their votes and add two sentences to the 2015 rules about voting independently, which jurors had to pledge to do anyway. If the EBU’s logic is that the jury’s actions weren’t in favor of the Georgian entry then their definition of cheating is too narrow because it allows jurors to be corrupted without real consequence. If the EBU simply decided not to suspend Georgia for this voting irregularity then they are setting an unfortunate precedent.

To me, the EBU is saying that you can cheat so long as it does not advantage your entry. I’m not saying Georgia should be disqualified for three years, but cancelling the jury votes is insufficient. The worst that can happen to jurors of countries that don’t make the final or jurors of the Big 5 during the semi-finals is that their votes will be declared invalid. That’s not much of a disincentive to prevent jurors from colluding.

Despite the EBU’s commitment to be more strict and transparent, their response has been soft and non-transparent. They should release the disqualified results so that we can see why they suspected irregularities, which I thought was the point of releasing the split results and being more transparent in the first place. If they haven’t already, they should launch the automatic procedures for when they suspect cheating and tell us what they found – even if they found nothing. If the EBU had enough evidence to indicate the Georgian jury votes were not done “independently” then they should follow through on their commitment to prevent cheating and disqualify Georgia, even if the jury’s actions were not done in favor of the Georgian entry.

 

What do you think about the Georgian jury results? Did Georgia cheat? Should the EBU have cancelled their votes for the final and should Georgia be disqualified from Eurovision next year?

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