Dutch media report potential conflict of interest over funding sources for Eurovision 2021

In 2021, Dutch broadcasters AVROTROS and LITin collaboration with the parent organization NPO, ensured Eurovision would take place in the country despite being canceled a year earlier. Even though it’s been over a year since the show aired, dutch magazine HP/De Tijd try to figure out how the show got its budget.

In the spring of 2023, several Dutch media published reports on a potential conflict of interest between the Shula Rijxman, former President of NPO, and Marjan Hammersma, Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. This is the organization that finances NPO.

Former NPO network manager and research journalist Ton F van Dijk claimed in HP/De Tijd that Ms Rijxman has used her close contact at the ministry to try to secure additional funds to host Eurovision 2021. This is despite the government initially criticizing government aid to NPO.

However, it is important to note that unlike HP/De Tijd hinted, NPO ultimately did not get the funds directly from the ministry. Instead, as we reported in December 2019, NPO actually got the necessary €12.4m from a surplus of its advertising revenue, which normally goes straight into the media pool of all broadcasters. .

What is the drama about?

Rijxman and Hammersma reportedly had a close private friendship outside of their working relationship and vacationed together in private spheres. It has been claimed within NPO that the organization was not aware of it. While some felt their private friendship didn’t need to be made public, others said it could pose issues of personal integrity.

It could be considered controversial that Hammersma indirectly decides on NPO’s budget and financing. This can and has fueled suspicions that the allocation of public funds was not done on fair terms, but as a result of nepotism. Both 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 talk shows in which she appealed to the government for additional funds for her budget to help support the contest of songs.

The Dutch ruling party, the VVD, criticized the additional funding, saying that NPO has already received more than enough state support. As we saw in October 2019, NPO went ahead and applied for funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. It was common knowledge.

What did HP/De Tijd report on top of that?

Thanks to a new Dutch law extending the transparency of public governance, HP/De Tijd was able to request internal emails and text messages that were exchanged between, among others, Shula Rijxman and Marjan Hammersma.

Through an application to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, HP/De Tijd received an email dated May 20, 2019 directly from Rijxman’s business address to, among others, Hammersma’s address. He tried to establish a working relationship between the broadcaster and the department.

According to HP/De Tijd, NPO has attempted through several requests to receive additional funding from The Hague, although the ministry is not directly responsible for organizing the event. It was the responsibility of the broadcasters and the host city itself.

NPO eventually proposed that they use the excess ad revenue to fill their funding gap. HP/De Tijd noted that Marjan Hammersma was Media Minister Arie Slob’s most important adviser at the time. Mr. Slob gave the green light to the idea as proposed by NPO.

In the end, Eurovision 2021 cost 19 million euros, more than three million euros less than initially planned.