Eurovision: Diversity or Divide

Published: 12 May 2014

Region: Europe

Eurovision_WinnerThis year Eurovision Contest and its winner, Conchita Wurst of Austria, inspired many columnists and analysts to examine whether media in Europe showed greater tolerance and diversity since the most votes went to the performance by the drag queen or, as some media outlets descriptively put it, “lady with the beard”.

Others wonder whether the Eurovision and the voting by each country show, yet again, a divide and the political preferences.

“The Eurovision winner is another great stride in the treatment of trans people, showing us what gender diversity really looks like”, concludes the Guardian. To those who wonder what the Austrian performer is, the author of the commentary in the Guardian says that “Conchita is a clue as to what this gender diversity might look like in practice” claiming that the media coverage wasn’t so bad in terms of the attitude towards transgender people.

Not so long ago, at the beginning of 2014, most of the UK press unprofessionally and unethically reported on the incident in which the scientist dr Kate Stone nearly died. As a result of a landmark negotiation with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), six national newspapers – the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Sun, the Scottish Sun, the Daily Record and the Daily Mirror – have agreed that the “sex swap” headlines and the reference to Stone’s transgender status were inappropriate.

There are still some media like the Sunday People, owned by Trinity Mirror, the UK’s largest publisher, and home to the Daily Mirror and Manchester Evening News, who mocked the Eurovision winner on Twitter only to apologize and to remove the tweet after an outrage from Conchita’s fans.

eurovision_russiaThere is a quite discrepancy in the media reporting on transgender people and diversity, as well as in the aspects of reporting on Eurovision 2014. Therefore some popular web portals such as Global Voices, Buzz Feed and even the prominent the Washington Post, emphasize how “unhappy Russians” or “some Russians were” because of the Conchita’s win. Not only that the public was reminded of unsuccessful petitions initiated in Russia and Belarus to ban the broadcasting of the Eurovision if the Austrian contester took part, but most of the media forgot to mention the fact that the Russian public voted for the Conchita Wurst so that she was placed on the third place, after Armenia and Belarus.

So what is the role of media in spreading the discrimination against the others?

LGBT associations in Serbia demand the apology from the national broadcaster RTS due to discriminatory comments during the Eurovision Contest. Bulgarian web magazine in English, the Sofia Globe, asked to look at the messages sent in the final round of voting, while the UK’s New Statesman analyses what voting patterns tell us about the attitude towards sexual minorities across Europe today.

Europe Divided by Jury, not by Public

Although the voting on Eurovision suggest that there has been quite a difference from east to west, Dr Alan Renwick of the University of Reading studied how the points, almost in all countries, were calculated on the basis of a combination of a jury vote and a popular vote. Therefore, “if social attitudes differ across the content, we should expect that to be reflected in the popular vote”, writes dr Renwick in New Statesman. But the differences in popular attitudes seem to be much less marked than the overall points suggest.

“Only one country – Estonia – put Austria lower than fifth in the popular vote.  Conchita ranked within the top three not just in most of Western Europe, but also in Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.  The average points she would have won had only the popular votes counted would have been 8.0 in the former Soviet Union excluding the Baltics, 7.3 in the other former communist countries, and 10.0 in the rest.  So the differences are really quite small.

The results suggest, then, that we do live in a divided continent.  But the divisions might penetrate much less deeply into society than we often suppose.  The differences revealed in the popular voting are slight, whereas those in the elite juries are very marked.

Of course, this is only one source of evidence.  There is much, much more than this to be said about attitudes towards sexual minorities around Europe and across the world.  Nevertheless, there might be reason to hope that, even in those countries where the ruling elites are often highly intolerant, the wider population might be readier to accept that different people might be different”, concludes dr Renwick in the article in New Statesman.