Why isn’t there more transparency about Eurovision and The Voice voting?

Claire Dresser, Chief Adviser at the BBC, received total annual remuneration of £104,285 as of June 2012. On the 27th May 2012, she put a £58.37 taxi ride on expenses. On the 16th December 2010, she spent £14.10 on greetings cards.

How do we know these things? Because the BBC, a public service broadcaster funded by the license fee, rightly believes in the value of transparency. Except, that is, when it doesn’t. And one of the areas in which it apparently doesn’t believe in transparency is telling us in detail how the public voted in shows such as The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing and – topically – Eurovision.

Eurovision’s integrity is now in the spotlight due to apparent irregularities in this year’s scoring and alleged evidence of Azeri vote-buying. The question of manipulation of both juries and televotes is now openly discussed, and not just in our comments section.

We’ll come back to Eurovision later in the article. First, in case you’re wondering why we’ve picked on Claire Dresser, hers was the signature appended to a response to a Freedom Of Information request submitted by Sofabet commenter Dan, who was interested to discover the voting figures for last year’s live shows on The Voice. Dan emails:

I posted a while back that I was going to put in a Freedom of Information request to the BBC regarding voting figures for The Voice. Well, they’ve come back to me and it isn’t good news. They said the following:”This type of information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.”

Interestingly they also said:

“This is not the type of information we would provide voluntarily, outside the scope of the Act, as releasing voting figures could affect the way that people vote, and also have an impact on the participants.”

Here’s the full response. Dan continues:

Overall, it’s a terrible response from the BBC… As a public service broadcaster who is running a chargeable public vote for charitable, rather than commercial purposes, I would expect a bit more transparency. The excuse for not releasing them is poor and I don’t understand why the secrecy.

We also don’t understand. Rival broadcasters ITV commendably release the voting percentages for the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, after the final result has been announced. The fact that the figures need only be released at the end of the series means the “could affect the way people vote” excuse is utterly lame.

As for the idea that it could “have an impact on the participants”, when you put yourself forward for a show like The Voice, you accept the possibility of being humiliatingly rejected at the audition stage. The idea that if you succeed in getting to the live shows, you then need to be protected from knowing what percentage of the vote you got, is laughable.

Admittedly, we can see a certain logic here when it comes to Strictly, where participants are celebrities and the BBC might want to attract celebs with especially fragile egos. But for The Voice and Eurovision, these reasons simply don’t stack up to us.

If ITV can release the figures for X Factor and BGT, why can’t the BBC release them for The Voice?

Returning to Eurovision, if Italian broadcaster RAI can release the Italian televote percentages for Eurovision, why can’t the BBC and every one of the other 37 countries which voted on it? Indeed, is there any good reason why we shouldn’t get to know the televote percentages and the jury 1-26 in each of the participating countries?

The current debate about Eurovision’s integrity isn’t limited only to the blogs. The question of why Russia got no points from Azerbaijan, despite authorities there saying ‘What If’ scored highly in both the jury vote and televote, hit the front page of the BBC News website.

My first reaction was to consider the implications of page 4 of the EBU’s rulebook this year, which explained: “If it appears that votes are casted only in the intent to abuse the voting system or to false the final results, the EBU Permanent Services, in consultation with the Pan-European televoting partner and the chairman of the Reference Group reserve the right to remove such votes for allocating the ranks.”

Apparently, this is not the case here. The mystery continues.

The only way for the EBU to limit any damage to the Eurovision brand is complete transparency on individual televote and jury rankings. Whether we get it is another matter altogether. The EBU has previously been opaque on matters such as when the televote threshold hasn’t been reached within a country, triggering a jury-only score from a national broadcaster.

In a cynical world, the best way to build trust is to shine the light of transparency. The BBC seem instinctively to know that this is a good idea when it comes to publishing what their employees earn and claim in expenses. Why should the BBC, EBU and other broadcasters not apply the same lesson to the results of televised entertainment, too?

As ever, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you’re suffering post-Eurovision withdrawal, do stay tuned to our coverage of The Voice and BGT, which both reach their conclusions in the coming weeks.

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33 comments to Why isn’t there more transparency about Eurovision and The Voice voting?

  • eurovicious

    I second this. We demand full publication of all televote and jury results. Thank you for writing this.

  • fiveleaves

    I couldn’t agree more Daniel.
    ITV also release the figures for Dancing on Ice & I’m a Celeb.., so there is no reason why Stricty can’t do the same.
    We already know that when a celeb ends up in the dance off from a high position on the leaderboard, that they aren’t that popular with public.

  • zoomraker

    BBC funds itself by stealing money from people with the threat of violence and imprisonment. This does not sound like an organisation that would wish to be honest with it’s victims.

  • There are many theories of vote rigging in the Eurovision Song Contest, from patriotic immigrants and corrupt regimes to diehard metalheads handing Lordi the victory. Whether any of these are true or not, it seems to me that there is one effective way of drastically reducing their effect: strictly limiting the number of votes per phone.

    Right now, one phone can be used to vote twenty times for the same country. If any group is systematically using this to its advantage, reducing the limit to one, two, or three would make any such strategy ten to twenty times less effective. I’m sure that the vast majority of viewers will only ever vote once or twice per country from a single phone anyway.

    The glaring problem with this approach, of course, is that the EBU might receive a lot less money from the televoting. It all depends on how many of the contest’s votes come from people voting several times for a single country.

    I should add that this would do nothing to lessen the possible impact of jury corruption. That being said, I cannot see any way of boosting jury credibility to begin with. The fact that they were introduced as a response to criticism after Serbia and Russia won the contest shows that there is an agenda behind them, whether it’s explicitly enforced or not.

    • eurovicious

      The Lithuanian transcript suggests Azerbaijan has found a way to circumvent the voting limits. Multiple phones/SIM cards, multiple people, multiple locations.

      The 2009-2012 contests were largely fair. I think. Reverting to the old voting system would be a start. If the country that overwhelmingly wins the Italian televote – not just because of diaspora but because of cultural links, opera, the fact Cezar lived and worked in Italy and trained at the Milan Conservatory etc – only gets one point, and the country that comes 6th, with a tiny fraction the votes, is awarded maximum points, that’s a scam. People in their hundreds of thousands have paid to vote and their decisions have been overturned by a tiny cabal. This wasn’t the case under the old sytem which fairly represented both televoters and the jury. A song in the top 5 of either would get a proportionate amount of points.

      Bogdan’s article also suggested the Italian jury were all male and all journalists, which is a clear violation of the guidelines.

      To copy a comment left by someone on that article:

      “1. Serbia has a border with Romania
      2. Romanian minority lives in Serbia
      3. Romanian entry was popular on rankings in Serbia
      4. Romania got zero points from Serbia

      […] Votes for Serbia were rigged as well. No one I know of voted for Denmark while a lot of them voted for Italy and Romania, Romania in particular. Romania got ZERO points from Serbia? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING? This is so obviously rigged it’s not even funny!” I add to this that Serbia didn’t give Greece anything either.

      I can’t imagine the Azeri jury not voting for Russia, especially when Azerbaijan gave its 12 to Ukraine. a) Dina was good and the song has broad appeal and b) Russia and Azerbaijan are extremely close. If what the Azeri jury say is correct – that they did indeed for vote Russia – I do now wonder whether the jury results were “modified” at central level, not at country level, to effect the desired result. I consider it highly possible that Azerbaijan in fact won the televote, due to both the corruption discussed above and genuine broad appeal, and that the jury vote was thus tweaked centrally to prevent a return to Baku. It’s suspicious that Azerbaijan gave Russia 0 points, and that the only two countries in Italy’s televote top 10 not to receive any points were Russia and Azerbaijan.

      • But the people in the transcript still claimed that 5 to 10 votes needed to be cast from each phone. Limiting the number of votes per country to one would require such a group to get hold of a lot more people, phones, and locations.

        As for the low amount of points to Romania, that’s exactly the sort of thing that most proponents of the jury system have been looking for all along, claiming that even the 2009-2012 system wasn’t satisfactory. If the alleged large-scale Romanian immigrant vote does exist, I don’t see any fair way of nullifying it with a televote/jury mixture. Likewise for the vote from every other group accused of unfair voting. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      • Shai

        Why don”t the EBU limit the amount of time you can vote to a song?
        You can still vote 20 times but you can only vote once for each song.At the moment you have voted for a song, you will no longer be bale to vote to that song from the same phone.It’s a simple solution which will limit the influence of organized telephone manipulation.

  • eurovicious

    This isn’t directly relevant, but the Azeri selection was also clearly fixed for Farid. Every week from weeks 1-5, a mediocre singer triumphed at the expense of a much better singer. Then in Farid’s week – week 6 – for once it seemed like things were going to go right; the superior Nermine led the televote right until the end of the week. But at the very last minute, the jury scores tipped the heat in Farid’s favour, leaving Nermine visibly shocked. After this, in both weeks 7 and 8, two people won, presumably to make up the numbers for the final.

    Come the final, all the other candidates were given terrible songs unsuited to their style (for instance, competent crooner Vüqar was given a desperate ethnopop song) and shockingly poor sound quality – much worse than in the heats. And while the finalists weren’t the best, none of them were as bad as they sounded in the final. Farid was also given extra promo, performing Hold Me as a guest act on Azeri X Factor equivalent Boyuk Sehne before the final had even taken place.

    The reason they let so many joke candidates through is that it’s a procession, not a contest.

    Now let’s all laugh at Tomris murdering Call Me Maybe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWu-krJtevw

  • Dan

    Hello! Dan who put in the FoI request here! Thanks for publishing my email.

    If ITV can release the figures for X Factor and BGT, why can’t the BBC release them for The Voice?

    I asked for the numbers and not just the percentages from the Beeb as I can understand why ITV would want to hold back on that, i.e. for commercial reasons, but Auntie does have that excuse. It’s a shame that they won’t as secrecy just promotes conspiracy…

    Specifically for The Voice, which I’m struggling with from a punters perspective, I have a theory that the voting numbers are pitiful and that the (safe, BBC viewer friendly) winner is miles ahead of all other contestants, whose votes differ in the tens or hundreds. But sadly we will never know…

  • Boki

    Looking at the Swedish jury votes, they ranked Denmark & Russia at the top of the 1st semi while Belgium & NL lower. Suddenly in the final they realized they made a mistake and ranked them the other way around.

  • RL

    I have also heard that Lordi won because Metal heads discussed Eurovision on their online forums.

    If this is considered cheating we have to close a lot of Eurovision blogs…

    I did vote for them even if I did not know about this organized attempt. So I really do not know how important this was.

    • eurovicious

      That’s not cheating. There were no juries to be bribed or conclude deals with each other, and Finland wouldn’t buy televotes. Organised fan campaigns are different to corruption.

      • Martin F.

        Indeed – it ends up being tantamount to saying you’re not allowed to take part if you’re an artist with any kind of existing fanbase.

  • To those arguing that Ukraine’s teveote score in italy in semi1 is just diaspora and nothing to worry about, here are some numbers for you:

    All these are results from Italian televote exclusively:

    Romania 2012
    27.22% in the semi-final, 28.32% in the final

    Romania 2013
    not in Italy’s semi-final, 23.2% in the final

    Moldova 2012
    9.97% in the semi-final, 11.22% in the final

    Moldova 2013
    15.5% in the semi-final, 13.79% in the final

    Albania 2012
    13.87% in the semi-final, 12.92% in the final

    Albania 2013
    not in Italy’s semi, not in the final

    Ukraine 2012
    not in Italy’s semi, 3.13% in the final

    Ukraine 2013
    42.3% in the semi-final, 13.23% in the final

    These numbers show that there is not much difference of the way the diaspora votes are spread in semi compared to final. Obviously there are fewer votes in semi than in final, but not necessarily with more diaspora weight based on these numbers.

    • Nitro

      I won’t say that they didn’t cheat as those numbers show very big discrepancies, just saying they would be huge airheads for spending money on a semi they’re already certain to qualify from…

      • Obviously, the assumption is that Ukraine bought the same amount of televotes in the final, but it doesn’t show as much because of the larger amount of public votes submitted in the final. Based on the 2012 result for Ukraine and considering Gravity was a more popular package a realistic value should probably be around 4-5% televotes (Denmark had 3%), not 14%!

        • DashBerlin

          or in the final, they voted too many times for Ukraine and were discarded?
          Maybe they saw the Semi votes, saw the SMS votes as suspicious and dropped them from the final?

          • Nitro

            But still, why would they spend money in the semi in the first place? You mean they bought votes in the semi to cover up votebuying in the final?

            Vote buying is nothing new however, Bert Karlsson has stated to have bought votes in Melodifestivalen on more than one occation. Although it never became a major scandal I think they’ve established a maximum number of votes/person to counteract this behavior.

          • eurovicious

            They bought votes in the semi because they have the money and ability too. Qualification is never guaranteed, All of the countries implicated in vote-buying and jury-bribing affair are those that have never failed to qualify. It’s also likely the reason why they’ve never failed to qualify. Which is why they keep doing it. Ukraine had a close call in the televote last year, giving them added incentive this year.

  • john kef

    I strongly believe that EBU should reveal all the numbers for every country’s televoting and jury scores. This is the only way to know the truth.

    Apart from that my question is: EBU changed the rule this year because even with the 50-50 system some countries were favoured because of diaspora voting or for political reasons.

    This year indeed we had some really interesting votes with countries traditionally voting for the neighbours etc changing direction and voting for countries belonging to other blocks. That was the case. Wasn’t it? I prefer to watch San Marino give Italy a 4 instead of a 12, or Greece to Cyprus a 7.

    The problem here is that Eurovision had a big problem in the 2004-2007 era with the same countries vote for each other and now we went to the opposite side. Thousands of people give their money to vote and participate and their opinion is overshadowed by 5 people that might have their own agenda. I don’t say that they are all corrupt, but just place yourself to their position. They have the power to vote whatever they want and affect the result not only for money but just for the fun of being supermighty.

    One way or another i think that Eurovision is entering in a very dangerous period. Some countries will definitely start thinking if it worths the trouble to pay the fees and participate knowing that they won’t stand many chances qualifying. EBU reacted in a positive way in 2008 by giving some countries the chance to qualify with the double semis.

    Now they have to step in and make sure for everybody that the game is played correctly because that’s for their best interest. I can’t immagine again a Eurovision song contest with 30 countries participating, just a single final and the last 5 countries getting disqualified from the next contest

  • Tim B

    Why is nobody pointing the finger at Malta and Albania also? It’s pretty well known that Malta always receives jury scores that are significantly higher than their entries deserve.

    In semi final 1 of 2012 Albania gave a jury vote only. Let’s take a look at their top points;

    12 points to ‘Euro Neuro’ from Montenegro
    10 points to ‘The Social Network Song’ from San Marino

  • Durhamborn

    The big problem is the lack of votes needed to get high scores.If we were talking 100k votes the affect would be diluted but its mostly a couple of thousand needed.If you consider these countries tend to send decent songs anyway and can be expected to pick up some/many televotes its probably that you only maybe need to “buy” 1000 votes to go from 1 point to 12.
    The fact politicians are now threatening juries in Russia and Azer (thats what they are doing) is even more shocking.
    I dont want to be alarmist as ESC sees this sort of thing every year but i think this year its so obvious the EBU need to act in some way.If they dont i think wel start to see the slow retreat of countries entering.This year has shown unless you have a killer song the east will win every time.Great for punters,,terrible for ESC.

    • eurovicious

      Completely agree with this comment. A non-fan/layman friend texted me during the final voting to say it seemed like the usual Scandi/Soviet voting blocks had gone into overdrive even more than normal. If it’s noticeable to people who only think about Eurovision for one week a year, the EBU has a problem.

  • Boki

    All of the changes with juries, voting systems etc. were introduced because western countries felt threatened they can’t win anymore like they use to. So in the last 5 years we have again the western domination (4 against 1). In order to eliminate that last 1 I feel they should introduce the final change: east can participate but can’t vote in the final. That would eliminate all vote-buying problems and west doesn’t need to send a ‘killer song’ in order to win, a mediocre Bonnie will do.

  • Andrew Webber

    The EBU revealed that, based on all criteria laid out in the Rules, the independent observers from PwC had confirmed the validity of the result of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest.

    Some people do not like the results. They always don’t.

    Organizers have hedged the responsibilities.

    So the only objects left to blame became the artists and “regimes”.

    • eurovicious

      That’s an anti-intellectual non-comment.

    • Guildo Horn Forever

      If the authorities say everything was clean as a whistle and above board then it must have been. In every area of life if the man says there is no case to answer, then that is a definitive self-evident truth. Further investigations are rendered redundant.

      Politicians, the BBC, the IPCC etc – when these people and organisations state there is no case to answer, only a misanthrope would doubt that.

      Wikileaks is a comedy site, the height of parody – the joke is that in the entirety of its history it has not had one leak to publish. Because there is nothing to leak.

      How’s about that then?

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