Time to revamp the juries?
Eurovision is no stranger to jury scandal - Tel Aviv 2019 was no exception. In case you missed it:
The Belarusian jury was dismissed before the Grand Final for breaching EBU rules by revealing who they voted for in the Semi Final before the contest had ended
The EBU and voting partner Digame derived Belarus's jury score from nations with historically similar voting patterns. Due to ‘human error’ the results presented at the Grand Final were incorrect - affecting many placings including North Macedonia having the highest jury score – not Sweden. The EBU formally acknowledged the error and the scoreboard was changed retrospectively.
Seemingly three jurors voted in reverse order across the contest (with their favourite ranked last and least favourite ranked first). In Semi-Final one it appears a Czech juror may have inverted her results – if this were the case Poland would have qualified over Belarus.
In Semi-Final two a Russian and Swedish juror also appear to have made this error. If their rankings are inverted Lithuania may have qualified over Denmark. It is to be noted that none of the jurors or EBU have made a statement - these are not official changes to the results and are still considered fan speculation. However if true - this would not be the first time it has occured.
Heated discussions about televoter vs jury differences, nation favouritism/prejudice, scoring errors, jury member eligibility, etc seem to be par for the course at Eurovision. Five people awarding 50% of an entire nations points does hold a lot of influence over the results. It is not a perfect system - but it does serve a purpose.
The EBU has taken significant steps to improve juries over the past few years including releasing the jury members names to the public prior to the contest and the full breakdown of votes - allowing transparency for all involved. In a tight year like 2019 where every point mattered we cannot afford to have scoring mistakes. The EBU must use 2019 as a learning tool to help the contest evolve and strengthen.
The implementation of the split points in 2016 certainly added drama and suspense to the finale of the show. However, it does make discrepancies between jury and televote scores more noticeable to the public. This is no surprise for fans who methodically analyse the scores every year - but for the one-a-year viewer it might come as a bit of a shock who up until now might have assumed the jury scores were much closer to the televotes than they usually are.
Add all these together and you have a storm brewing. The last thing we want is Eurovision to lose trust from the viewers and delegations. To maintain the prestige and momentum the contest deserves we must ensure a more solid jury system is in place.
My two cents on what I would change:
The jury member must write (or verbally record) a reason behind what they like/dislike about the performance. It should relate back to the four judging criteria:
vocal capacity of the singer
the performance on stage
the composition and originality of the song
the overall impression of the act
By doing this it requires the jurors to be actively thinking about the judging criteria in relation to that specific entry. It also creates written feedback to the EBU. Providing them with greater insight into what is going through the judges heads - highlighting trends or pitfalls helping the EBU improve the system in future.
Additionally, if there are errors in voting (eg. inverted voting results) it will be obvious when the jurors favourite entry received poor remarks or vice versa. It also makes it more uncomfortable for jurors who may have been inclined to vote for or against a song due to that entrants nation alone more difficult. My last inclusion would be for jurors who have entries drop/rise 14 places or more from Semi-Final to Grand Final to make a separate justification behind the sudden change of heart.
If a jurors musical knowledge appears to be significantly lower than the quality needed for the contest - the EBU has a written evidence to reject a juror for coming years. All of these steps are to aid and motivate jurors to be as impartial as possible. Although time consuming - this is the Eurovision song contest. If 50% of the power is given to around 200 people it should be in their best interests to demonstrate the worth of their musical opinion over a casual viewer.
2. Auditing of the votes
For the reputation of the contest the EBU needs to create an auditing system for the jury votes. 2019 was riddled with questionable inverted jury results and it would not be difficult to have people familiar with the system and voting patterns across Eurovision to audit the results in the 24 hours between the Jury Final and the Semi/Grand Final. There is a window to rectify any issues before the contest is broadcast live - simply contacting the juror and confirming their results would highlight the mistake without too much drama.
3. Becoming a jury member
Currently to be a jury member you must be either: a radio DJ, artist, composer, author of lyrics
or music producer. Although steadily improving - more diversity within the juries in terms of age and musical background would be ideal to reflect the breadth of music brought to the contest. The rules currently encourage diversity but do not have any strict quota.
The age of Romania's jury members for 2019 ranged from 48 to 50 - not to say they couldn't have a holistic approach, but you are much more likely to have similar musical experiences with someone the same age as yourself than someone two decades older or younger. Adding more rules to help delegations shape their juries would ensure variety.
4. Back-up jury voting transparency
It is unclear if the EBU had the backup jury system devised before the Belarusian jury was dismissed or had to create it in the few days between the dismissal and Grand Final. Either way - it should be clear to contestants, fans and delegations in the event of a jury being dismissed how their points will be derived before the contest begins. That way it is transparent and provides time to discuss and review the system before the contest.
5. Consistency in jury discussion
I'm still on the fence if I would prefer jurors to have robust discussions about the entries as a collective or if jurors should watch and vote in silence. Ultimately I want consistency - either jurors instructed to deliberate collaboratively or individually. Both have their pros and cons.
In a scenario where they are instructed not to discuss ideally barriers between where the jurors are sitting to ensure no one can read notes/votes off each other and an invigilator to maintain silence. Unfortunately in the past there have been issues with unprofessionalism including jurors making inappropriate comments and even live-streaming during performances. If group discussion is required an invigilator should be present to ensure what is being discussed is musical in nature only.
It might sound extreme but for a contest of this size and passion I think the contestants and viewers deserve the most level playing field that is reasonably achievable.
Of course the vast majority of jurors are doing the right thing - or trying to! Instead of pointing the finger at specific jurors - lets poke and prod the EBU with our fan requests instead (it's not like they haven't listened to us before!). Or at least cross our fingers they've ironed out the issues from 2019.
The current jury set up is by no means a total train crash – but it needs to improve in order to maintain viewer trust and the contests reputation.