A new report and investigation by the Los Angeles Times details how the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hosts the Golden Globe Awards each year, is facing allegations of ethical failures.
The Times conducted an investigation, including “interviews with more than 50 people — including studio publicists, entertainment executives and seven current and former members — as well as court filings and internal financial documents and communications,” which it claims shows the organization fighting to rid itself of the negative reputation it has accrued.
The outlet reports,
The Times’ investigation also found that the nonprofit HFPA regularly issues substantial payments to its own members in ways that some experts say could run afoul of Internal Revenue Service guidelines. HFPA members collected nearly $2 million in payments from the group in its fiscal year ending in June 2020 for serving on various committees and performing other tasks — more than double the level three years earlier.
An HFPA representative told The Times, “None of these allegations has ever been proven in court or in any investigation, [and they] simply repeat old tropes about the HFPA and reflect unconscious bias against the HFPA’s diverse membership.”
The association also said that “all active members have to present clippings every year as part of the robust reaccreditation process” that is reviewed by Ernst & Young.
The Times also questioned the representative about the findings regarding increases in payments to HFPA members. The HFPA representative responded, “Our compensation decisions are based on an evaluation of compensation practices by similar nonprofit organizations and market rates for such services” and are “vetted by a professional nonprofit compensation consultant and outside counsel, where appropriate.”
Last year, the organization was sued by a Norwegian entertainment journalist who had not been given membership into the group. In November, a federal judge sided with the HFPA over the journalist, Kjersti Flaa, who accused the group of institutionalizing a “culture of corruption.”
According to The Times, Flaa claimed that “the tax-exempt organization operated as a kind of cartel, barring qualified applicants — including herself — and monopolizing all-important press access while improperly subsidizing its members’ income.” Flaa also contended that the organization had many ethical conflicts, saying that members would accept “thousands of dollars in emoluments” from the studios, networks and celebrities to whom they gave awards.
The judge dismissed the suit “partly on the grounds that Flaa didn’t suffer economic or professional hardship as a result of her exclusion from the association,” according to the report.
The Los Angeles Times spoke to current HFPA members who declined to be identified, reportedly out of fear of retribution from other members. One such member was disappointed with the suit’s dismissal, saying, “I thought it would shake things up…. We are an archaic organization. I still think the HFPA needs outside pressure to change.”
The HFPA has had issues in the past, from lawsuits to scandals, but the most recent criticism came from its nomination of Netflix’s new series, “Emily in Paris.”
In 2019, The Times reports that more than 30 HFPA members flew to France in order to visit the set. Paramount Network reportedly paid for two nights at the five-star Peninsula Paris hotel and a news conference and lunch at the private museum, Musée des Arts Forains, where the show was filming.
According to The Times,
“They treated us like kings and queens,” said one member who participated in the set visit. (Other non-HFPA media also separately visited the show’s set, including a freelance contributor to The Times who interviewed the show’s creator, Darren Star).
“Emily in Paris” ended up getting two Golden Globes nominations this year — best television musical or comedy series and best actress for the show’s star, Lily Collins. Speculation arose amidst some television insiders who didn’t think the series was worthy of an award.
One of the show’s writers, Deborah Copaken, wrote an op-ed saying she was surprised by the nomination. “It never occurred to me that our show would be nominated,” Copaken wrote, taking issue with the fact that “I May Destroy You,” a drama about sexual assault, was not nominated.
Representatives for Paramount Network and Netflix declined to comment to The Times.
Some argue that the HFPA needs to change in order to survive, but others told The Times that the awards are desired by those in Hollywood and the industry gains an advantage from them.
“If the studios wanted to kill the Golden Globes, they could overnight,” said one source who has worked closely with the HFPA. “But everybody likes getting an award, and with the money and everything that comes with a show of that magnitude, it’s like a snowball you can’t stop.”
The 78th Golden Globe Awards are set to air on February 28. The HFPA is a non-profit organization that has been around since the early 1940s and currently consists of only 87 international journalists as its members.