Golden Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association hit with antitrust suit

Lawsuit alleges group excludes and discriminates against qualified applicants

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group responsible for the annual Golden Globe Awards, has been hit with an antirust lawsuit that alleges the organization's 87 members "monopolize the foreign entertainment reporting market" at the expense of taxpayers.

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Golden Globes signs on the red carpet at the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 6, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

The complaint filed in California federal court Monday by Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa, who has written about entertainment for a variety of publications, accuses the HFPA of adopting membership rules that exclude and discriminate against qualified applicants who compete with existing members.

"The HFPA is so focused on protecting its monopoly position and tax-free benefits that it has adopted Bylaw provisions that exclude from membership all objectively qualified applicants who might possibly compete with an existing member," Flaa wrote. "There are no standards or guidelines for satisfying the subjective portions of the applications process and rejected applicants have no right to demand either that the applications procedure be fair or that they be allowed to appeal an adverse decision made for obviously improper and unlawful reasons."

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The suit claims the organization operates like a cartel, allocating foreign markets among its members and requiring applicants to execute agreements pledging not to offer to write for any publication claimed by a member or any rival publication. It also alleges that the HFPA uses the Golden Globe awards to monopolize opportunities to attend industry events or interview "hot" movie stars and exclude other foreign journalists.

"The HFPA not only fails to offer a fair procedure for seeking membership, it does not even make a pretense of doing so," Flaa added. "It also requires two votes of approval by the membership without providing any guidelines or standards for approving or rejecting applicants. It places no emphasis whatever on evaluating the quality of an applicant’s work. Instead, it freely allows its members to base their admissions decisions on whether an applicant might become a competitive threat to an existing member."

Flaa argues that despite the organization's tax-exempt status, HFPA members are “unwilling to share the enormous economic benefits membership provides."

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According to the lawsuit, the HFPA pays all travel expenses for its members to attend film festivals and press junkets around the world at a cost in excess of $1.1 million dollars annually and pays its members "very substantial sums to work for the HFPA doing little or nothing."

The lawsuit cites examples of one member who was given more than $20,000 annually to assign the seating at the Golden Globes awards ceremony, two members given $12,000 annually to serve on the “History Committee” and former presidents who are paid $1,000 a month for life without "a notional requirement that they provide a service in exchange for their sinecure."

The complaint is seeking “preliminary and permanent relief prohibiting the HFPA and its members from unlawfully competing with non-HFPA-member foreign entertainment journalists residing in Southern California or denying them the benefits of HFPA membership.”

It also seeks to "enforce the right of fair procedure long applied by California to private organizations that affect a person’s ability to earn a lawful living; declare unlawful the provisions of the HFPA’s Bylaws used unfairly to deny admission to qualified applicants; and recover under applicable antitrust laws for the economic harm she has suffered as the result of defendants’ unlawful conduct."

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Flaa, who most recently has been a celebrity interviewer for Norway's TV show "God Kveld Norge" ("Good Evening Norway") and also posted work on YouTube, alleges she was sponsored for membership by French and Tunisian members before others in the HFPA raised concern about competition in Scandinavia.

The journalist noted in the complaint that she was presented with an agreement committing to never compete with other HFPA members in the markets of Norway and Denmark as a quid pro quo for not blocking her from admission to membership in the HFPA. She argues her rejection was unrelated to her achievements but rather the result of a conspiracy within the organization.

A spokesperson for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association said it "takes seriously its obligations as an organization and its dedication to foreign journalism and philanthropy" and that it will "vigorously defend against these baseless claims" from Flaa.

"While the HFPA has not yet been served with this complaint, it seems consistent with Ms. Flaa’s ongoing attempts to shake down the HFPA, demanding that the HFPA pay her off and immediately admit her prior to the conclusion of the usual annual election process applied to every other HFPA applicant," the spokesperson said. "The HFPA has refused to pay ransom, telling Ms. Flaa that membership was not gained through intimidation. Ms. Flaa and her attorney are now asking a court to order her into the organization and pay her."

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