The Next Degeneration

What the hell is going on at Eurovision? At first there was attempted smearings, shady six-figure contracts and jobs for the boys; but now the EBU is straight up firing dissenters. If this is their attempt to seem less suspicious, then it couldn’t be going any worse…

A few months ago, we wrote a detailed piece on some of the shady sounding dealings going on behind the scenes at Eurovision. By complete chance, it just so happened to coincide with the arrest of a number of high-ranking FIFA officials on some serious charges of financial misconduct.

There were some interesting parallels to be drawn between the stories coming out of the two institutions. Obviously FIFA is an absolute Goliath of alleged corruption – a body so rotten it makes the remains of Richard III look like a vision of health. While the accusations being levelled at Eurovision were much smaller, they did appear to show some similar traits starting to emerge. Both were Switzerland-based organisations, funded in part by public money, whose terminal lack of transparency was causing people to ask some very serious questions.

And then this week, Eurovision fired its first dissenter. Someone from inside the EBU, trying to speak out.

What happened? We’ll tell you – but first, a little recap.

Previously, On Eurovision…

There are four things you need to be aware of:

* Jarmo Siim – the Eurovision Song Contest’s (ex) Head Of Press

Jarmo started the whole ball rolling when he was caught apparently sending secret messages to journalists on Facebook, trying to get them to smear the Swedish entrant Måns Zelmerlöw (the bookmakers’ favourite) ahead of the 2015 competition. His consequent attempt at a denial set a new bar in shiftiness and he resigned shortly after.

* Sietse Bakker – Jarmo Siim’s immediate boss and CEO of Wow!Works
Sietse was the man tasked with heading up an investigation into his own employee’s alleged misconduct. However, as Sietse’s company, Wow!Works, currently holds a series of contracts with the European Broadcast Union (EBU) totalling €440,000 per year, this threw up a rather glaring conflict of interests. Would he find Jarmo guilty and risk nearly half a million in business interests? Or find him innocent despite something of a smoking gun?

* Jon Ola Sand – EBU’s Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest
Jon was the one who appointed Sietse to head up the internal investigation. He was also the one who then decided that, actually, maybe a potentially embarrassing investigation into a rapidly unfolding shitstorm wouldn’t be necessary after all. So pulled it.

* Wow!Works – Sietse Bakker’s company
Sietse’s company, Wow!Works, holds two contracts with the EBU. There’s one €321,955 contract for ‘Web Services’ which Wow!Works has been getting for years (one which, until this week, had never been put out to any competitive open tender process). There’s also another, separate €120,000 contract – first signed in 2014 – for ‘Consultancy Services’, also provided by Wow!Works.

Leaning on journalists. Conducting opaque internal investigations. Handing out lucrative contracts to friends. All in all, the very picture of an Old Boys’ Club.

But that’s not where it ends. As we predicted at the time, it looks like this may well be the tip of a massive, murky iceberg – and we might have just caught a glimpse of another chunk of it.

Contracting Up

Whenever EBU officials have been questioned about why such sizable contracts had been handed to Sietse Bakker’s Wow!Works without any sort of competitive tender process, their answer has been something along the lines of ‘setting up an international tender process and getting someone to analyse, compare and evaluate all the applications would increase costs instead of reducing them’.

In other words: it’s too expensive to see if anyone could do the job cheaper.

Quite how they could be so sure there are no savings to be made without actually asking anyone their price is unclear – but that’s all by-the-by now, because guess what? The EBU has suddenly decided that putting this work out to tender is a good idea.

Hang the expense! they’re now saying. Overtime be damned! Let us shake ourselves clear of the clouds of conspiracy, and step out into a bright new day – whatever the cost!

So how does this new tender process work exactly? INCREDIBLY SUSPICIOUSLY, IS HOW.

First of all, the deadline could hardly be tighter. The announcement that these contracts were up for grabs was made on Friday 16th October. Submissions were being accepted from Monday 19th October and the deadline is Friday 13th November. From announcement to curtain close – four weeks.

Four weeks would be a pretty swift turnaround for a contract of that magnitude at the best of times, but – either by unfortunate coincidence or sneaky design – this has all come at a rather hectic point on the Eurovision calendar. Because anyone who is well acquainted with the internal workings of the Eurovision Family of Events (i.e. the sort of person that would be perfect to put in a bid) will be hard at work putting on the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

When is Junior ESC? Saturday 21st November. The following weekend.

But, wait. There’s more. Tucked away in the terms and conditions of the tender is the stipulation that any company which does decide to bid can’t publicly reveal that they’ve submitted a bid – even if they are unsuccessful – unless they get the express written permission of the EBU to do so.

So much for being open and transparent.

And worse than that, anything that a company does submit as part of the tender process becomes the exclusive property of the EBU. In the terms and conditions of making a bid, bidders agree that “the EBU shall be entitled to use (free from any payment or restriction) all ideas, concepts, proposals, recommendations or other materials (save for the bidder’s trademarks and third parties’ copyrighted materials as communicated in writing by the bidder to the EBU)”

All of which appears to mean that the EBU can take your ideas, not pay you for them, and you aren’t able to speak up about it because you aren’t allowed to reveal that you submitted a bid.

It might just be clumsily worded, but what sort of maniac would submit their intellectual property under such limiting conditions? The sort of maniac that knows for certain he’s going to get the contract, perhaps? Anyone else would surely be crazy to try.

Bakk In Business

On the same day that the tender process was announced, Sietse Bakker made two announcements. The first was that he would be standing down as the Events Supervisor of Eurovision after Stockholm 2016 (this is the job that commands the €120,000 fee). The second was that his company would be putting in a bid to win the tender to provide the web and online services that Wow!Works has been providing for years (this is the job that commands the €321,955 fee).

Sietse is, of course, completely entitled to bid. He’s got quite the advantage too because not only has he been working for the Eurovision in an official capacity for ten years now, he’s also got a fair bit of free time at the minute – as he was taken off a then-floundering Junior Eurovision back in 2012.

This second announcement was not entirely warmly received. When he posted his intentions on Facebook (presumably after getting the EBU’s written permission in order to talk about his bid publicly) one member of the Eurovision team, Kath Lockett – the Head Of Press for Junior Eurovision – asked a few rather pointed (and since deleted) questions of Sietse.

Specifically she asked him if he had any intention of paying the team of volunteers who write for the site that he draws a €321,955 fee to run. She also asked if the video staff will get any share in the YouTube revenue generated by the 2,000,000,000 views of Eurovision Song Contest videos.

Interesting questions which probably deserve some further investiga… Oh, wait. Did we say ‘member of the Eurovision team’? Sorry. We meant ‘ex-member of the Eurovision team’.

Kath Lockett was fired, effective immediately, from her position of Head Of Press for Junior Eurovision for posting those questions – which lasted all of 15 minutes on the site.

To repeat: Mere weeks ahead of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest starting up in Bulgaria, the show’s well-liked Head of Press has just been fired for asking questions of Sietse Bakker.

Damage to the EBU’s reputation, apparently.

There’s something spookily reminiscent of Phaedra Almajid in all this – the International Media Officer for the Qatar 2022 bid turned whistleblower at FIFA. The last thing the EBU should be doing if they want to distance themselves from comparisons to FIFA is fire a woman who is speaking out about questionable practices in the organisation. And yet here we are.

As we said last time though, maybe this is just all an unfortunate misunderstanding. Maybe the EBU just wanted to show that they’re perfectly capable of doing damage to their own reputation without Kath’s help.

If so, Eurovision, we applaud you. You’re doing an excellent job.