Eurovision song policy
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed May 25 14:51:47 UTC 2005
Running since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest (in French: Concours
Eurovision de la Chanson) is an annual televised song contest with
participants from numerous countries whose national television
broadcasters are members of the European Broadcasting Union. The contest
is broadcast on television and also radio throughout Europe. More
recently, the contest has also been televised in other parts of the world
and broadcast on the internet.
The contest's name comes from the Eurovision TV distribution network,
which is run by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and can reach a
potential television audience of more than one billion. Any member of the
EBU may participate in the contest. This also includes countries of Africa
and Asia such as Turkey, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt,
Lebanon, Libya and Syria. Of these non-European nations, only Turkey,
Israel and Morocco have participated in the contest. Lebanon had intended
to participate for the first time in 2005, but decided to withdraw because
of problems broadcasting the Israeli performance.
The EBU is not connected with the European Union.
Based on the San Remo Music Festival, the first Eurovision Song Contest
was the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union. The first contest
took place on May 24, 1956, when seven of the original invitees
participated (the other three were disqualified for late entry). The
original participants were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands,
Luxembourg, Belgium, and Switzerland. They were joined the next year by
the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Austria ("the Procrastinators"). In 1958,
Sweden took part for the first time, Monaco entered for the first time in
1959. More countries came on board in a gradual trickle over subsequent
decades, with for instance Israel first appearing in 1973 and Iceland in
1986. However, the definitive end of the Cold War in the early 1990s led
to a sudden increase in numbers, with many former Eastern Bloc countries
queuing up to compete for the first time. This process continued into the
2005 contest, in which both Bulgaria and Moldova made their debut
Up until 2003, participation in the Eurovision Song Contest was dependent
on a country having performed with a reasonable amount of success for the
previous few years. A poor run of form meant that a country could be
effectively suspended for a year. Because of the size of their
contribution to the EBU budget, France, Germany, Spain and the UK
automatically qualify regardless of how poorly their songs perform.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to make the Eurovision Song
Contest a two day event as of 2004, dropping the previous restrictions on
the number of EBU member countries that can participate. The new format
calls for the 10 most successful countries from the previous year along
with the four biggest budget contributors to directly qualify for the
final show. The remaining countries go through a qualification round from
which the 10 best advance to the 24-26 nation final show.
For the 2002 edition, the Spanish TVE created a reality show Operacin
Triunfo that showed the selection and training of unknown singers. At the
end, one of them would be elected by the public to represent the country
in the contest. The format was initially an enormous success in Spain and
was swiftly exported to other countries. One example is the Irish You're A
Star, a Pop Idol clone run on Radio Teilifs ireann since 2002, which
carries the ultimate prize of representing Ireland at Eurovision.
Ironically, however, the original Spanish show was quietly dropped for the
2005 contest, with the country reverting to a conventional national
Number of songs:
Initially each country was allowed to submit two three-minute (or less)
songs, performed by inhabitants of the respective country. By the 1960s,
entries were limited to one song per country (participation in the contest
had almost doubled). Participation continued to grow through the 1980s,
and by the turn of the century the rules had been changed several times to
both limit the number of finalists and to allow for the new independent
republics that arose from the former Eastern bloc countries.
Current rules state that countries are only allowed to have six performers
on stage and that performers must be aged 16 or more, on the 31st of
December in the year of the contest. It is worth noting that under the
current rules there is no restriction on the nationality of the
performers, allowing the French-Canadian Cline Dion to represent
Switzerland, amongst many others. If an EBU country does not broadcast the
Song Contest they are automatically disqualified for the next year.
Among the famous performers to have graced the Eurovision stage are Cliff
Richard, Nana Mouskouri, The Shadows, Vicky Leandros, Olivia Newton John,
t.A.T.u., Mocedades, Baccara and Cline Dion. ABBA rose to fame after
winning the contest for Sweden in 1974.
Following the dominance of English language songs, particularly Sweden's
1974 victory (with ABBA's "Waterloo"), a rule was passed in 1977 that the
song had to be sung in one of the official languages of the performing
The rule was quashed in 1999, and Sweden immediately won again with
another English song ("Take Me To Your Heaven" by Charlotte Nilsson).
Many small countries sing in English to reach broader audiences, though
this is sometimes looked upon as unpatriotic. In these cases the lyrics
have commonly been written in the mother tongue originally, in order to
win the national competition, and then translated.
In 2005, even the majority of larger states including Germany opted to
sing in English. The remaining exception to this is France, which
resolutely sings in its native tongue, and defends the dual-language
policy of the presentation whereby scores and points are announced in both
English and French.
Voting and Results:
The winner of the contest is decided by each country assigning points
(currently 1 to 8, 10 and 12) to their favourite ten entries. Until
recently votes were decided by small juries in each country, but under
normal conditions national telephone polls are now held during the
broadcast in order to determine points assignment. Countries are not
allowed to vote for themselves.
The jury voting system still exists as a reserve measure, when televoting
is impractical or suffers a malfunction. In 2003 Eircom's (Irish telecom)
telephone polls system ceased to operate normally, the Irish broadcaster
RT did not receive the votes on time and instead used a panel of judges.
The Russian competitors t.A.T.u. threatened to take legal action against
the RT on the grounds that the votes would have allowed t.A.T.u. to win
the contest and accusing RT of intentionally causing an error in the
televoting, to directly prevent t.A.T.u. from winning. This has been
strongly denied by the broadcaster.
The presenters of the contest connect by satellite to each country's jury
in turn, inviting the spokesperson for each national jury to read out that
country's votes in French or English, although French is usually only used
by France and Monaco. The presenters then repeat the votes in both English
and French, following the formula: "Country name, number points. Nom du
pays, nombre points" (but putting French first if the spokesperson is
reading the points in French).
Since each of the entrant countries casts a series of votes, it is only
rarely that a song has failed to have any votes at all cast for it under
the modern rules this means that the song failed to make the top ten most
popular songs in any country. This is also known as receiving nul points,
from the practice of reading results in French as well as English during
It has been observed, most notably by Terry Wogan, the BBC TV presenter
and long term commentator on the show, that politics dictate a lot of the
voting. For example, it is believed by many that the United Kingdom's
receipt of 'nul points' in 2003 reflected Europe's opposition to British
involvement in the invasion of Iraq, as much as the poor quality of the
song and performance. The last time the United Kingdom won the contest was
just after the EU-sceptic Conservative government of John Major was
heavily defeated by the more EU-friendly Tony Blair (although the country
had come second in both 1992 and 1993, during the Major administration).
Traditionally Turkey has not received many points from Greece, however in
a reflection of the improved state of relations in 2003, Greece awarded
Turkey (the eventual victors) a number of points and in 2005 Turkey gave
their twelve points to Greece. Countries entering the contest for the
first time often score highly as well, as voters are generally sympathetic
to newly forged nations.
Regional and cultural voting patterns are also common; Cyprus and Greece
usually give maximum points to each other, regardless of the quality of
their songs. Former Yugoslav states have the habit of voting for each
other. With the introduction of voting by the public, Turkey gets many
points from Germany and the Netherlands due to large Turkish expatriate
communities in those countries, France, with a large Portuguese community,
often awards a high score to Portugal, Romania gets a high popular vote
from the recent immigrants in Spain, and former Soviet states, with large
Russian populations, frequently award high scores to Russia. In 2004,
France got 12 and 10 points respectively from its Francophone neighbours
Monaco and Belgium more than half of its total points. In general, the
public and juries alike seem to favour songs where they can understand the
The Nordic and Baltic countries tend to stick together, leading to
victories for Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia in 1999 through to 2002.
Ireland, although not part of a voting block, often does well as a
neutral, largely English speaking country. However, a clear exception to
this was in 2004, when the only points received by Ireland came from the
One of the interesting tendencies in the voting patterns is that often
countries will tend to vote for others in the same region notwithstanding
that they may share a troubled history:- Croatia, for example, gave its
maximum 12 points to Serbia and Montenegro in the 2005 contest, and the
United Kingdom received most of its points from Ireland in the same year.
This paradox pops up routinely in the voting patterns between Balkan
states, and also amongst former Soviet Republics and Russia (the BBC's
Terry Wogan called it "keeping on terms with the Big Bear"). The ironic
flipside is that the Western European states very rarely vote for others
in the same region, despite the fact relations between those countries are
cordial (at least in comparison). Consequently the Western European states
have tended to dwell at the bottom of the voting table in recent years.
The counter-argument to accusations of regional and politically prejudiced
voting patterns is that it is natural for people of similar cultures
within Europe, sharing common borders where the TV and radio stations of a
number of countries can be received, to enjoy similar styles of music.
That said, even though voting is now done by public telephone poll rather
than by jury, friendly voting does seem to persist, and with an increasing
number of nations appearing each year, may even be becoming more
It also seems that the fact that France, Germany, Spain and the UK, being
the four largest contributors, do not have to participate in the
semi-final is also taking effect on their results. For instance, in 2005
they each scored no more than 30 points and occupying the last 4 places on
the scoreboard. This is seen by many to be a "boycott" of those members,
at the unfairness of the contest's being fixed in a way. Others see it
simply as a coincidence.
Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest is an honour accorded to the winning
country from the previous year although this means that the victor's home
broadcaster actually incurs heavy expenses as a result of winning and this
has led to suggestions that some nations deliberately choose substandard
acts so as to ensure they do not win twice in a row. In the early 1990s
the Irish broadcaster RT was reported to have experienced financial
difficulties through having to host the contest four times in five years
(this was somewhat parodied in the Father Ted episode "A Song for
Europe"). The 2004 ESC was allocated a budget of some 15 million and was
the most expensive edition ever. However, the contest is considered a
unique showcase for launching the host country as a tourist destination,
and for the summer of 2005 to coincide with its hosting of the ESC,
Ukraine even abolished its normal visa requirements for tourists.
Many pop singers and groups have begun the path to fame with a win at the
contest. However ABBA, Cline Dion and Secret Garden are the only contest
winners to have launched their careers internationally by participating in
The entertainment provided by the host nation between the competitors'
performances and the scoring is sometimes used as the launch of a
successful career. The Celtic dancing show Riverdance was first seen
internationally at the 1994 contest and the Hothouse Flowers had a
successful career after their interval appearance in 1988.
The maximum duration of each song is three minutes, and the musicians and
songs selected for the contest tend towards very commercial pop, although
there are exceptions. Many viewers of the contest view the event as a
combination of camp entertainment and a musical train wreck (a fact played
upon in the UK broadcast with the sardonic BBC commentary of Terry Wogan)
and a subculture of Eurovision song contest drinking games and the like
has evolved in some countries.
Copyright 2005 Juicee News Daily.
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