Politics is an inevitable element at the Eurovision song contest (ESC) but the integrity of the voting system now had to be reinforced after a wilful voting bloc was uncovered last year, a representative of the competition’s organisers told EURACTIV.
Eurovision is the longest-running annual TV music competition and one of the world’s most-followed singing contests. This year’s event is hosted by the United Kingdom in Liverpool on behalf of the 2022 winners Ukraine, who could not organise it as the country is at war.
The ESC, which attracts huge engagement on social media every year and counts on a loyal and very diverse audience, will see its grand finale on Saturday (13 May) when the winning artist will be announced after a nerve-wracking live voting.
Winning a show as big as the ESC has quite an impact in terms of prestige given to the winning country, according to Jean Philip de Tender, deputy director general of the Eurovision’s organiser, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
“But it isn’t a political event. And we ensure that no message, no lyrics, no act has any political message. Eurovision is not a platform to do politics,” he said.
However, though Eurovision is formally apolitical, politics has always played a major role, including strong political moments like when Iceland’s runner-up Hatari waved Palestinian flags in the 2019 edition in Tel Aviv.
The last edition, held in Turin, Italy, was considered one of the most political ever following the decision to exclude Russia in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and because of the victory of Ukraine’s entry, Kalush Orchestra, which, according to some, rode on the emotional wave of support for the war-torn country.
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Integrity, the priority
“You can talk politics when it comes to voting for neighbouring countries, but I think that is part of the cultural identity and affinity among neighbouring countries in Europe,” de Tender said.
Since 2016, the voting in the grand final has been split in half between national juries and the public. However, national juries from countries belonging to certain regional blocs, such as the Scandinavian peninsula or the Western Balkans, have shown over time the tendency of voting for each other.
Still, even if political powerplay via regional blocs remains unavoidable, it is different from intentional attempts to manipulate the voting.
Last year, the organiser identified specific irregular voting patterns in the six countries which teamed up together in order to reach the final.
These delegations agreed to vote for each other in the top five positions so as to carve up enough points to overcome the semifinal stage.
“What we saw last year was unprecedented and it did not go unnoticed. We need to safeguard the integrity,” de Tender said, adding there are plenty of measures in place this year to avoid such attempts.
For this reason, national jury voting was removed from the semifinals, where only the public could vote.
However, national juries will be allowed to vote again in the grand final, at least for this edition.
According to de Tender, this experiment will not lead to completely scrapping national juries in the future as the current format is successful both in terms of entertainment and fairness.
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An exportable brand
The biggest change for Eurovision over the last couple of years was the greater involvement of the youngest audience.
“They have a different vibe, they look at things in a different way. They are really fans of the brand,” said the EBU representative.
The success of the brand owes much to young people, particularly because they boosted engagement on social media, which also helped broaden its reach outside the European continent.
In 2021, the American broadcaster NBC acquired from EBU the rights to broadcast an American Song Contest strongly inspired by the ESC, which ultimately went live in 2022.
“What makes me proud is that the US reproduced not only the format but also the values of the contest, which are diversity and unity,” de Tender said.
The EBU is currently in talks with other broadcasters in Asia, the rest of North America and South America.
“We take it step by step. If you want to organise it in your territory, you have to do the same values as the one we have here, as well as the same production quality that we have here” de Tender concluded.
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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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