Scandal envelopes Eurovision run-up

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Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) named a winner Saturday night to represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest this spring, but her victory was bittersweet. A “scandalous” breakdown of NRK’s system for voting by the public meant that a back-up jury of just 30 people chose Norway’s four finalists, and voting for them was only available through NRK’s own website.

“Yes, you’re allowed to boo,” stated Ingrid Gjessing Linhave (left) from the stage at the nationally broadcast Melodi Grand Prix show Saturday night. She was one of three hassled hosts of NRK’s “scandalous” program that chose Norway’s entry in the huge Eurovision Song Contest later this spring, even though the public voting system broke down. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“Yes, you’re allowed to boo,” claimed NRK’s Ingrid Gjessing Linhave, one of the three highly pressured hosts of NRK’s Eurovision preliminary, called Melodi Grand Prix (MGP). They had to try to explain, live on national TV, that the public’s voting system had broken down and that the jury set up for just such a catastrophe would vote for the four finalists. “We’re disappointed, too,” Linhave added.

“This is an embarrassing scandal,” claimed Morten Thomassen, leader of the MGP Fan Club in Norway, right after the show finally ended in chaos. “Everyone will wonder whether the four finalists chosen deserved to be so.”

The technical breakdown of NRK’s online voting system knocked out some high-profile favourites like Rein Alexander, whose Viking-style song One Last Time had grabbed pre-show attention and good odds by betting firms, as had Out of Air, performed by a duo including former MGP winner Didrik Solli-Tangen. Another well-known artist who’d hoped to mount a comeback in MGP and, hopefully at Eurovision, Tone Damli, also lost out.

Ulrikke Brandstorp ultimately won Norway’s Eurovision qualifier, Melodi Grand Prix (MGP), but only after what national broadcaster NRK itself described as Stemmekaos (Voting chaos).  PHOTO: NRK screen grab

The winner after more than an hour of what NRK itself branded as “voting chaos,” Ulrikke Brandstorp, had emerged late last week as the odds-on favourite, with newspaper Aftenposten reporting on Friday that she topped betting firms’ lists with as much as a 41 percent chance of winning. That didn’t console MGP fans who set off a social media storm of criticism against NRK when they couldn’t register their votes. Many also telephoned established media outlets like newspaper VG and denounced NRK’s Eurovision qualifier as “a scandal” and downright embarrassing for Norway’s national broadcaster. Others called it “pathetic” and “unfair.”

“We’re having a pizza-and-wine evening with Melodi Grand Prix here and are really irritated that we can’t vote,” complained one MGP fan, Torgrim Knustad-Harr, to VG. He and thousands of others called for a return to a system for voting via telephone, which NRK didn’t offer this year.

Tone Damli’s manager David Eriksen told VG that NRK’s voting system this year “lacked respect” for everyone involved. Not only was Damli herself “frustrated” by the voting fiasco, Eriksen himself said he was sure rival Alexander Rein would have made it into the finals if the public had been allowed to vote. Rein himself thanked his supporters over social media and congratulated Brandstorp and her songwriters with their victory that he thinks “will undoubtedly do well in Rotterdam,” where Eurovision will be held in May. He noted, however, that “it wasn’t the public this time who were able to vote their favourites forward, but an appointed jury.”

Stig Karlsen had a lot of explaining and apologizing to do after the production he led ended amidst cries of “scandal” and “unfairness.” At right, NRK’s equally defensive acting boss Vibeke Fürst Haugen. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

NRK bosses claimed they “could only apologize” for the voting chaos that they attributed to fans’ sending in 38 million emojis when they tried to vote online. “It looks like it was the 38 million emojis that crashed the system,” stated acting NRK chief Vibeke Fürst Haugen. She and MGP leader Stig Karlsen had to ultimately take responsibility for the fiasco at the annual show that followed several preliminaries of its own that began a month ago.

“With such a large and complex production like this there are lots of things that can go wrong, and unfortunately the technical aspects weren’t with us the whole way,” Karlsen said. “We had to use a people’s jury for this type of situation.” Asked who sits on the 30-member jury, he replied only that “these are 30 people who of course represent the entire country and various age groups.”

Karlsen insisted that after the jury narrowed down all 10 finalists from previous shows to the four semi-finalists, the public was finally able to vote them down to two and then down to winner Brandstorp, who prevailed over Kristin Husøy who was the hometown favourite in Trondheim, from where the show was broadcast. Karlsen also said around 700,000 votes were received in the final round.

Here are all the losers in NRK’s Eurovision qualifier MGP, and whom many Norwegians were viewing Sunday as the victims of NRK’s “voting chaos” Saturday night. They included pre-show favourites like MGP veteran Didrik Solli-Tangen (second from left), Rein Alexander and Tone Damli (third and second from right). PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Karlsen noted that “we’re left with a winner who has been a big favourite all along.” Haugen also stressed that she and her NRK colleagues were “quite secure” that the correct winner was chosen.

Others were left with the feeling that the entire fiasco is the latest example of how Norwegian officials are constantly forcing digitalization and high-tech means of providing services that remain vulnerable and can crash. NRK continues to fend off criticism, for example, over its push for DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio that forced Norwegians to scrap all their old FM radios and buy new DAB radios that still have a tendency to blank out.

Asked whether NRK management’s decision to only offer online voting at MGP this year was prompted by national media policy, Haugen said, “no, we did this to make a good show and provide a good experience for the public. We are very satisfied with the show itself, and very sorry about the technical problems.”

Challenged over how she could be satisfied with an MGP show featuring a voting system that didn’t work, she said “that’s why we’re standing here and saying that part was very unfortunate and we’re sorry it happened. But we had the people’s jury as back-up, so we feel quite secure that the right winner won.”

Karlsen, asked to respond to how thousands of MGP fans and TV viewers were furious and turned off the show, said he realized that many are “disappointed and upset, but what we see is that this has still been a people’s party. We are also very sorry about what went wrong.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund