Austria will not participate in the Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade in May 2008, as broadcasting chiefs say the public voting is based on regional loyalties rather than the quality of the compositions.

"The song contest reflects negative signs of a complicated European unification", says Wolfgang Lorenz, program director of the Austrian TV and radio station ORF. He says this was the case in 2007, when he claims voting decisions were made not according to the quality of the songs but to the country where they came from. Four of the seven winners since 2001 have come from eastern Europe (Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Serbia).

Recent years have seen widespread accusations in western European countries' media that the contest had been sabotaged by block-voting by former eastern bloc countries. Votes for the contest are registered live by phone and SMS.

"As long as the contest is not an international entertainment programme, but a political drill-camp, the ORF intends not to send talents from Austria in such a changeless race," says Lorenz. Austria's sole win in the contest came in 1966 with Udo Jurgens' "Merci Cherie."

According to ORF head of entertainment, Edgar Bohm: "we would have to register now for the contest in 2008, but for the time being, a lot of details for the preliminary decisions are not clear." It is also uncertain whether the contest will even be broadcast in Austria next year, says Bohm.

This May in the United Kingdom, Richard Younger-Ross, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, called for state broadcaster the BBC to withdraw from the contest unless there is change to the voting system, which he described as based "largely on narrow nationalistic grounds." Younger-Ross subsequently raised the issue in parliament.

The 2007 U.K. entry finished second from bottom at the final in Helsinki, won by Serbia with Marija Serifovic's "Molitiva."