Sunday, May 25, 2008

Solutions to the Eurovision political voting problem

I went out of my way to defend Terry Wogan on the All Kinds of Everything blog yesterday (I know, I've got an unhealthy fixation with that place), so it was a bit disappointing to hear him make such fatalistic remarks about the future of the Eurovision Song Contest in his commentary tonight. If he's ready to call it a day, that's his prerogative, but the idea that the entirety of western Europe is going to join him in doing so is a bit melodramatic. I wouldn't deny for a moment there's a serious problem with political voting, but the irony is that this is the year a significant first step was made towards addressing that issue. The new rules that applied at the semi-final stage successfully produced a fair balance between western and eastern qualifiers for the first time in years, so now all that's needed is a similar innovation to sort out the problem in the final. Off the top of my head, I can think of four possibilities that would provide at least a partial solution.

1) Allow each country to award points to fifteen different entries, instead of the current ten. This wouldn't have been feasible in the past, but now that only the top marks are read out, it would no longer slow proceedings down at all. Of course, under this system the top points would still be awarded on a neighbourly basis, but it's reasonable to assume the lower set of points would be distributed more on merit, leading to a fairer overall outcome. An example to illustrate - if a country happened to finish twelfth out of twenty-five in every single televote, under the current system it would finish last with no points at all. That simply can't be considered a fair reflection of the result people are actually voting for.

2) Allow each country to award points to five eastern countries, and five western countries. This would have the advantage of still allowing viewers to decide the result, and still to vote for whichever country they like - indeed it would be a strong incentive to cast two votes - but it would also, at a stroke, neutralise the in-built advantage eastern countries currently enjoy.

3) The BBC could surrender its 'Big Four' status in exchange for something more worthwhile - separate representation in the contest for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would be the right thing to do on its own merits, but it would also produce a new British Isles voting bloc that could balance out its counterparts in the Balkans, the Baltic, Scandinavia, and the ex-Soviet Union. And if anyone tells you Scotland would never award high marks to England, I can tell you for certain they're wrong. Apart from anything else, about 8% of the population is English-born.

4) Revert to a 50/50 weighting for the jury and televote. Probably the simplest solution, in that it's been done before, at least in some countries.

On the contest itself, I was a bit disappointed to see Russia run away with it - as I said before Serbia, Portugal and Albania were my favourites, but I would still have been much happier to see Greece, Ukraine or Armenia take the crown than Russia. Ah well, it's all a matter of personal taste at the end of the day. At least I had the satisfaction of seeing my prediction turn out to be close to the money, although it wasn't exactly a tough one to call this year! And at least the song that was 'clearly the worst in the whole contest' (© Keith Mills 2008) somehow managed to finish 5th out of 43 entries. Wonder how it managed that?

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