Eurovision organisers attempt to combat vote-rigging ahead of 2014 song contest

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On May 9th and 10th, 37 countries from within the European Broadcasting Union area will battle it out for the title of Europe’s best song at the 59th Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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This year organisers are taking special precautions to try to ensure that the use of new technology doesn’t add the allegations that they’ve already been facing about voting irregularities.

Brian Singleton is a professor of Drama at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He says Eurovision organisers have to protect the brand from increasing claims of vote rigging.

“In the last 12 months and particularly around the last contest the number of allegations has increased really quite extensively,” he said.

“This is the first major attack on the brand that is Eurovision and I think the European Broadcasting Union needed to do something in order to protect the brand.”

Historic claims of cheating

Countries from across the European broadcasting area meet every year, over two semi-finals and a grand final event, to showcase national compositions they hope will win them the privilege of next hosting the event.

 

A country’s point allocations, between one and 12, are determined in equal part by a national jury of music professionals, and the results of a public vote by phone and text messages.

 

The host broadcaster of the festival, the European Broadcasting Union, says it has investigated claims of public vote rigging at last year’s contest final in Sweden, and errors were revealed in the work of one national jury during one of the semi-finals.

 

Professor Singleton, who was previously on the Maltese national selection committee, says claims of cheating date back to the very first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 when the Swiss jury was permitted to vote on behalf of Luxembourg.

 

Although the official vote tally of the then seven participating countries has never been released, it’s thought Luxembourg’s proxy vote may have advantaged the ultimate competition winner, Switzerland.

 

Professor Singleton says the integrity of national juries is in the spotlight once again.

 

“Price Waterhouse Coopers were supposed to have been looking at the juries last year and allowed an Italian jury to completely flaunt the rules,” he claims.

“The juries are supposed to be composed of industry professionals like producers, DJs, composers, lyricists and singers.”

“But the Italian jury last year was composed of five music critics. All of them were middle-aged men. The EBU stipulated very clearly that there must be a balance in terms of gender and age and background.”

“They completely disregarded that and let the jury go forward with their votes.”

Public voting under scrutiny

Who is actually voting, and how often, is also of concern to those monitoring the public votes.

 

Organisers claim to have a sophisticated system that blocks multiple voting from the same landline or mobile phone SIM card but there are ways around the system.

 

During last year’s final, video footage emerged in Lithuanian media purporting to show people attempting to buy votes for Azerbaijan, which ended up coming second.

 

However, Norwegian journalist and Eurovision commentator Jostein Pedersen believes the real damage to the contest could come in a more sophisticated form.

 

He says advances in technology could create opportunities for interference in the public voting process, including from hackers.

 

“The openness that modern technology invites is also a part of building up a sort of wall against information about what is really going on because it’s so advanced,” he said. “Broadcasters around Europe have to be aware of it and they have to tackle it.”

“I guess it’s just a race against time and a race against extremely advanced technology that is funded by the black market and black money. I guess there is quite an invisible enemy there somewhere.”

“For some countries it is a very serious matter to participate in Eurovision because it means so much and it means to build a profile of the country and the tourist industry and investment industry and the business industry.” 

None of the allegations about voting irregularities have ever been conclusively proven, but they’ve worried the organisers sufficiently to take action.

 

The Chairman of the Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group, Dr Frank Freiling, says it’s confident that internal and external security systems in place are capable of detecting any irregularities.

 

He says this year will also see a range of new measures to increase transparency in jury voting.

 

“We have increased the rules on identifying the members of juries in advance so that we have a chance to check if there is any cross-connection to artists or countries or anything like that, which was quite the opposite before,” he said.

“We have increased the external auditing taking place at the jury meetings.”

 

The Eurovision Reference Group says it could punish national broadcasters if voting irregularities are proven, and shown to advantage a particular country.

 

This includes the possibility of exclusion from the Contest, for up to three years.

 

Dr Freiling says it’s about shifting more responsibility onto the national broadcasters.

“If there are incidents of someone trying to bribe or trying to influence the outcome in favour of a country that network has to cope with the result and has to potentially take the consequences.”

“It is very difficult to prove interventions or directly connect them to a network or a government and I think it is not our job to in the last detail verify those accusations,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of the participating networks and, thereby, the participating countries to ensure that they do their utmost that no one in their wider context is behaving incorrectly or [with] bad intention.”

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