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Xtra Debate: Is the jury voting transparent enough?

Eurovision 2018 saw the tenth Eurovision final where the winner was decided by a combination of jury voting and televoting. Today, the juries decide 50% of the results, and they have shown how much influence they can have through the different voting systems. The critics are many, and not always founded : lack of professionality, lack of renown, possibility of corruption or manipulation, too much power, political voting… Is there something “shady” with the jury?

A little history

In the early days of Eurovision, and for most of its existence, the voting was entrusted to national juries. Their composition and the scoring format changed a lot in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It went from choosing a favorite to scoring each song out of five, and with jurors that weren’t necessarily professionals. Gary Speirs’ experience in the British jury in 1986 is an interesting read on the subject.

At the end of the 1990’s, technological progress and EBU’s will to make the contest appeal to a younger audience made it enter into the televoting era. In 1997, five countries (UK, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland) used televoting. The next year, all countries but Cyprus and Hungary voted through televote, and in 2001 it had become mandatory. 8-members juries were still used, but as a back-up, in case of televoting failure. Interestingly, this was not completely true in 2001 and 2002, when countries were free to choose between a 100% televoting or a 50/50 mix of televoting and jury voting format.

After many years of televoting, several countries (especially from the West) started to criticize the system, denouncing a strong presence of neighbour and diaspora voting. After the 2007 contest, juries were slowly re-introduced. In 2008, they only chose a wildcard qualifier in each semi-final. In 2009, they did the same, but were also introduced in the final, where their points were added to the points of their country’s televote, in order to create a common Top 10. They were also reduced to 5-members juries. It is only in 2010 that the 50/50 system was extended to the semi-finals.

The last important change regarding the juries (not including the changes in the voting system in 2013, 2016 and 2018) took place in 2014. This year, for the first time, the EBU published the name fo the jurors before the contest, and their detailed, individual rankings were released immediately after the final.

Alexander Rybak, the first winner of the 50/50 system © Getty Images

So, is the jury vote transparent?

My opinion

I believe we can hardly make the jury vote more transparent. We have the names of all the jurors, and enough time to search through the list for anything suspicious (like someone who might be related in one way or another to a participant, which is illegal). Even the general, “uninformed” public must know their own jury, as the rules states this : “The names [of the jurors] must be made known on air during the Final by the national commentator(s) in the territory concerned.” (paragraph 1.3.1.h. in the official rules for Eurovision 2018)

It seems hard to ask the jurors for a detailed reasoning of their ranking. The only way to make it more transparent but still readable would be to change the voting format. Jurors could rate the songs (either directly, like it was done in the 1980’s, or by giving scores on different factors), and theN add up the scores. The ten best rated songs would get the points. This would allow jurors to rate equally two songs they equally like, and would create a ranking more representative of the jurors’s judging.

But for now, we must make do with the current system of rankings. And the only way to make them more transparent is for us fans and specialized websites to look at them more closely. And to point out the possible incoherences, even if it ends up in naming and shaming. After all, that’s why the names are public.

Nathan Picot’s opinion

I think there has to be a level of translucency in the jury voting unless it gets all complicated. What do people want? The process of picking jurors exposed? Then that leads to people applying to be a juror with ulterior motive as to why they want to be a juror. Also another level of transparency would be the jurors giving comments as to why they gave a song that rank. But that makes wading through the jury scores way to complicated. I think we should count ourselves lucky that the EBU issue the names of the jurors as if the juror doesn’t give the score the fandom wants then the fandom can attack the juror.

Where I think it isn’t transparent is the conditions by which the jurors watch the shows to score them. It should be under scientific conditions, but I doubt it is. But then we are highlighting the jury transparency yet the televote is hardly transparent either as we are not allowed access to raw figures as to how many votes are given to a certain song that translates it into the 12-1 then 11-26 notation ranking system.

Constantinos’ opinion

Let me preface this by saying that I do believe the EBU is working very hard to hone the process. However, I particularly find the criteria for jury voting a massive barrier to transparency. Are they voting based on vocal talent? Are they voting for the most chart-friendly and modern song? Are they voting based on how polished the staging is? There is no way of knowing.

According to Eurovision.tv, jurors are given four factors to consider when judging an act, these are vocal capacity, the performance on stage, the composition and originality of the song and the overall impression by the act. All of those, bar ‘vocal capacity’, are rather vague and open to interpretation, as I would expect. The problem I have is that there is no way of knowing whether a juror took all of those into account in their rankings. The likelihood is that jurors vote based on what they like, much like the televoters at home. Regardless, this process is not exactly ‘transparent’, because you cannot get inside a juror’s head.

Perhaps releasing jury comments could be the next step? Or is that a step too far? Having a justification to go alongside the rankings would certainly be interesting reading (well, if you’re a super fan, at least). Personally, I would love to know the reasoning behind Austria’s Cesar Sampson receiving nine sets of 12 points from the juries, despite delivering a shaky performance in the jury show. This is the issue, when you’re dealing with something as subjective as Eurovision performances, there is no way of making this process fully transparent. The system is innately bureaucratic, especially when there are so few jurors voting compared to the millions that make up the televote portion.

Cesár Sampson on stage in Lisbon, Portugal.
Cesár Sampson represented Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 with the song Nobody But You finishing in 3rd place with 342 points. © Tomodo Photography.

It’s also worth noting that the jury rehearsal footage is not released by the EBU, so we don’t even know exactly what the juries were basing their votes on. The only ‘footage’ we get of jury rehearsals (leaks aside) are live streams from the press centre. Even though performances are carefully produced to ensure consistency, there is no way any singer could perform to the same standard repeatedly. Releasing this footage would allow us to see the quality of jury performances for ourselves, and perhaps even justify the rankings given.

In fairness, The EBU releasing the full rankings of countries’ jury votes, plus the names of jurors alongside their votes, has been an important step in making the system less opaque. I guess my point is that the process of five people, ‘industry experts’ or not, ranking Eurovision performances can never be entirely transparent.

Xtra Debate Poll

Once again, we gave everyone in the team the opportunity to voice their opinion through a flash-poll. Here are the results :

Jury

What do you think? Is the jury vote transparent enough to you? What could be changed? Tell us more in the comments below or on social media at @ESCXTRA !

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