In 2021, Dutch broadcasters AVROTROS and NOS, together with parent organisation NPO, made sure that Eurovision would take place in the country despite its cancellation a year earlier. Although it’s been more than a year since the spectacle passed, Dutch magazine HP/De Tijd is trying to work out how the show got its budget.
Over the spring of 2022, several Dutch media published reports about a potential conflict of interest between the Shula Rijxman, the former chairman of NPO, and Marjan Hammersma, the secretary-general of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. That’s the body that funds NPO.
Former NPO network manager and research journalist Ton F van Dijk has claimed in HP/De Tijd that Ms. Rijxman used her close contact at the Ministry to try and secure the extra funds to host Eurovision 2021. That’s despite the government initially being critical of giving NPO governmental aid.
However, it’s important to note that, unlike HP/De Tijd has hinted, NPO did not ultimately get the funds directly from the Ministry. Instead, as we reported in December 2019, NPO actually secured the the needed 12.4 million euros from a surplus in its advertising revenues, which normally go directly into the media reserve of all broadcasters.
What’s the drama about?
Rijxman and Hammersma reportedly had a close private friendship outside their work relationship and spent holidays together in private spheres. It has been claimed within NPO that the organisation had no knowledge of this. Although some feel that their private friendship does not need to be made public, others have said that it could present problems when it comes to personal integrity.
It could be seen as controversial that Hammersma indirectly decides on NPO’s budget and funding. That can and indeed has fuelled suspicion that the allocation of public money did not happen on fair terms, but as a result of nepotism. The two have denied any wrongdoing or abuse of their position.
After Duncan Laurence won Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv, NPO boss Shula Rijxman appeared on several talkshows in which she asked the government for additional money for its budget to help support the song contest.
The Dutch governing party VVD was critical of additional funding, saying that NPO received more than enough state support already. As we covered in October 2019, NPO went ahead and applied for funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. This was public knowledge.
What has HP/De Tijd reported on top of this?
Through a new Dutch law expanding the transparency in public governance, HP/De Tijd has been able to request internal emails and text messages that were exchanged between, amongst others, Shula Rijxman and Marjan Hammersma.
Through a request at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, HP/De Tijd received an email dated from 20 May 2019 directly coming from Rijxman’s work address to, amongst others, Hammersma’s address. It tried to establish a working relationship between the broadcaster and the Ministry.
According to the HP/De Tijd, NPO tried through multiple requests to receive additional funds from The Hague, despite the Ministry not being directly responsible for hosting the event. That was the responsibility of the broadcasters and host city themselves.
NPO eventually proposed that they take the surplus advertising revenues to plug their funding gap. HP/De Tijd noted that Marjan Hammersma was the most important advisor to Minister of Media Arie Slob at the time. Mr Slob greenlighted the idea as proposed by NPO.
In the end, Eurovision 2021 cost €19 million, over three million euros less than originally budgeted.