Eurovision Spectacles and Probity Illusions

Eurovision Image

I confess that I am a groupie who loves watching the spectacle that is Eurovision.  Amazing, beautiful, awkward and goofiness all in the one slick package.  The SBS coverage is equal to the event and the hilariously dry, and typically Australian commentary by Sam Pang and Julia Zemiro is perfect.

Of course, Dami Im’s flawless performance elevated Australia to new heights in the world of Eurovision.  This year, we have learned of the underlying controversy about the ultimate winner, the judging screwups, and the apparent politicisation of the event.  I confess that I was surprised by the result, where Ukraine’s winning entry was certainly not the catchy, toe-tapping, Eurobeat number that I had come to expect.  One of the longest running television programs in the world, Eurovision has been a staple of Europe’s popular music scene since 1956.  There have been some successful winners including ABBA, Bucks Fizz, Katrina and the Waves, and Secret Garden to name a few – I think you get the picture.   I predict the difficulties of this year will have some big consequences in how the event is run in 2017.

One element of the contest that always amuses me is the cut to the ‘expert panel’ and the on-camera floundering of the seemingly all-powerful event director, who confidently announces when the results are in and ‘we have a valid result’.  It is so out of context with the overtly extravagant show, my first thought was that this was just another example of the slightly dorky side of Europe when it comes to popular music.  However, on deeper reflection, it is clearly an attempt to demonstrate fairness and an appearance of probity.   Making such an obvious spectacle of the decision process is not all that unusual.  However, the recent FIFA scandals have made us suspicious when fanfare and spectacle, designed to demonstrate fairness and equality, is proven to be an illusion and a gross distortion of the underlying reality.

It made me think more deeply about the rise and rise of the probity auditor in Australia.  As someone who regularly engages with government, the uniquely Australian probity auditor has become ubiquitous is government and large corporate procurement strategies.  Yet we see time and time again, instances where the outcomes are suspicious.  Indeed some of our major companies are currently embroiled in accusations of bribery and foul play, and it is hard to imagine they would be satisfied with a perfectly level playing field.

No doubt probity auditors do a diligent job, however I wonder how many times they are used primarily to sanitise a decision that has already been decided upon to a large degree.  Indeed, one large construction company I was working with told me that, ‘if you haven’t got all the key information you need by the time that the tender is called and the probity cone-of-silence is pulled down, then you don’t have a hope’.  I confess that, my antennae are now on high alert whenever I hear someone confidently state that they have probity auditors on board to ensure fairness and equity.  The truth is often quite different in my experience.

So, back to Eurovision and why this matters.  Eurovision was created to bring the people of Europe together through music.  It was certainly not meant to be politicised and the rules are designed to expressly forbid this from happening.  Yet a new hyper connected world of smartphone voting, combined with the ability to create strong virtual groups and communities, make political subversion relatively easy.  The amazing durability, success and international reach of Eurovision may ultimately be its undoing if the organisers cannot develop strategies to address the situation they currently find themselves in. I suspect that the cut to the ‘event director’ will not do the trick anymore.

Perhaps Eurovision could employ a few of our probity auditors?  At up to $2000 per hour, this would help our balance of payments.  Then again, perhaps they should take a leaf out of IQ and invite Stephen Fry to act as event director, where he could announce some completely random result that we would be delighted with – simply because we know Stephen Fry is smarter than us all, doesn’t treat us like fools, makes us laugh, and we love him for it.

Personally, I hope that Eurovision can successfully deal with the challenges and the event just gets bigger and better.  I for one would be the first in line to buy tickets should it ever comes to Australia.

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. Peter- I’ve been a fan of Eurovision too for all of its engaging features, apart from the music. I especially enjoyed the incisive somewhat unhinged commentary of the late Terry Wogan who didn’t disguise that he’d be working his way through a range of refreshments to help him endure the music. The voting, and Wogan’s commentary upon it was also wonderful, and offered excellent instruction in European politics and history.

    We were living in England too when they suffered through the horror of the year they received “nil points” and the outrage and scandal was tremendous fun, for an Australian.

    Thanks for this.

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