When the EBU fired Kath Lockett as the Head of Press for Junior Eurovision on October 20, followers of JESC let out a collective gasp. Now, what started as Eurofan drama, has made its way into the mainstream press, with Sweden’s Aftonbladet and the UK’s popbitch asking questions about ethics and transparency, and drawing rather ugly analogies between the EBU and FIFA. In recent days, Germany’s NDR has been asking questions, too, suggesting the story isn’t running out of steam just yet. Instead it’s acting as a gateway to broader issues of Eurovision governance.
Since the 2013 event, Lockett has worked as the head of press for JESC, helping turn the show into a success following years of declining interest from broadcasters and viewers. Prior to Lockett’s arrival the show was handled by Wow!Works, a company owned by Sietse Bakker that also runs the Eurovision.tv web site. Owing to the contest’s decline, the EBU took JESC off of the company’s hands in 2012. Countless Eurovision journalists have credited Ms. Lockett with helping to revitalise interest in the event and for showing an enthusiasm and excitement that was previously lacking.
Fast forward to October 16, 2015 and Lockett learns that the EBU will hold an open tender for the organisation of all Eurovision events. The rules only allow companies that have been in existance for at least three years to apply, essentially making it impossible for non-companies, such as Lockett and her team, to submit a bid.
On October 20 Lockett posted critical questions on Bakker’s personal Facebook page. Among other things, she asked why volunteers working on the Eurovision.tv web site were not paid; what happens to the revenues from the official Eurovision YouTube channel (which has over two billion views); and how Bakker justifies the poor quality of news and material on Eurovision.tv.
Within hours her job was gone.
“I was told that I was fired, effective immediately,” she tells Aftonbladet, “because the comments I put on Sietse Bakker’s personal Facebook page were supposedly damaging to the reputation of the EBU.”
The EBU is remaining tight-lipped. Dave Goodman, a communications officer at the EBU, e-mailed Aftonbladet this pithy one-liner: “It is the EBU’s policy not to comment on the termination of contracts with individuals.”
There’s no doubt that Lockett’s comments were provocative. But in firing her, the EBU has caused itself a lot more reputational damage than it would have by simply ignoring her comments, which she deleted 15 minutes after posting. Originally seen by a handful of hardcore Eurovision fans, her comments have now been shared widely on social media and in the international press. By trying to show strength — you’re fired! — the EBU has revealed its insecurity and sensitivity over the questions she raised. In the process they’ve unintentionally created a martyr for those demanding reform.
Speaking to wiwibloggs, Lockett says she has no regrets: “Putting up my queries on Sietse Bakker’s personal Facebook page was indeed foolish and risky, but I felt that it was my only way of getting these concerns out there — if only for a few minutes — after they had been ignored inside the EBU.”
Questions for Jon Ola Sand
Lockett’s questions grabbed attention, but many of these issues had been in the public domain prior to the Facebook incident. On October 29 German broadcaster NDR wrote that it had, in August, sent an extensive list of questions to Eurovision superviser Jon Ola Sand. These covered YouTube revenues, organisational and financial practices, why the running of Eurovision events is outsourced to non-EBU staff members, and Wow! Works’ 322,000 euro contract with the EBU to run the Eurovision web site.
Among his responses, Sand points out that there is a great deal of transparency within the Eurovision Reference Group. If you read NRD’s report in full, you’ll gather that they are not impressed.
All of these reports come in the aftermath of Eurovision 2015, when Aftonbladet alleged that Jarmo Siim, then the head of press for Eurovision, had urged a Greek journalist, through his private Facebook account, to smear the Swedish contestant. Siim resigned following a media storm. He denies any wrongdoing.
Are the wheels coming off of the EBU’s Eurovision team? Does the steady stream of reports and questions undermine the credibility of Jon Ola Sand’s leadership? What questions do you want answered? Let us know in the comments box below.