Monday, May 26, 2008


The Eurovision Song Contest was set up in 1956 as a kind of experiment in live television by the Switzerland based European Broadcasting Union but also had an ethos of bring together the nations of Europe, for the first contest just seven, and for much of its history just the Western, non-communist countries, but peace was a theme. It is now somethign of a monster production, with 43 countries vying to make the grand final, but arguably also somethign of a travesty with the key accusation beign that "voting system is a fix with judges from different countries forming political alliances that overlook any possible musical merit" [The Times]. The Baltic and Balkan nations are now favoured and Russia's win which Terry Wogan highlights as evidence of the strategic alliances that underpin voting.

Eurovision has become a huge PR event, Serbia clearly used it to reposition the nation away from any negative associations from its histroy. It can present the nation's culture, history, trade and tourism to an international audience, one which includes China, India and Korea. Therefore winning is a serious prize despite the contest's association with the camp and kitch. The new democracies of the Balkans, and indeed Russia itself, wants every opportunity to sell itself and so may be motivated to encourage tactical voting in some way, but is this possible?

According to the EBU, Eurovision homepage, all voting is by telephone. However we have no idea of how many people actually vote in any of the countries. This lack of transparency dogs the UK broadcasters as they seek to raise as much revenue as possible from phone voting and some have cut corners to ensure revenue is raised independent of the result. Also any single number can vote as many times as the owner likes, I know for a fact that one agent had five phone constantly voting for his client to win one of the Celeb dancing shows (I say no more). So if Russia did want to influence the vote perhaps an entire embassy staff in each country could be voting - maybe!

But if it is the people that are voting for their neighbours, is this just normal and should we criticise it? We may think something is rubbish, or at least Sir Terry might, but it could be that Spain got more votes because they judged the audience better than UK voters. But, to quash these accusations, and the obvious benefactor of the 12 points (Norway to Denmark or Sweden; Finland usually to Russia), perhaps what is required is an overhaul of the voting to ensure some sort of transparency at the very least. But when so much PR is at stake, is it any wonder, if it is true, that any nation may use the event to gain publicity and market itself; maybe the problem is that British public sense of fair play means they are missing a trick.

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