A “limitless” budget was allocated by the State broadcaster to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest participation in a bid to boosting Ira Losco’s chances of winning in Stockholm tomorrow, according to industry sources.
Conservative estimates indicate the expenditure could be at least double what Malta usually spends on the contest. Such expenditure was “unprecedented”, the sources said.
“It’s incredible. No-holds-barred. Where is all the money coming from if PBS are millions in the red? The question is who is driving this and why? [CEO] Anton [Attard] has made this his personal mission,” an observer of the broadcasting scene told this newspaper.
In the past, the budget for the festival would fluctuate between €200,000 and €300,000. “They have spent several hundreds of thousands over and above this. Saying that half a million has been spent so far is a really conservative estimate. It’s more like three times’ that amount,” a person who used to be involved in the international competition said.
PBS refused to provide this newspaper with an account of expenditure so far despite several requests, with the Times of Malta pointing out that PBS is fully owned by the State and received about €3 million in taxpayers’ money.
This newspaper stressed that PBS was expected to be transparent and accountable but chairman Tonio Portughese cited commercial sensitivity. This was also the reason he gave for not giving details on the number of people forming part of the Maltese delegation in Stockholm.
“Sensitive commercial and business-related partnerships are fundamental to the operation’s sustainability in terms of high broadcasting standards and financial parameters. Commercially speaking, the Eurovision is a golden opportunity to reinforce further our self-sustainability.
“You can rest assured that all decisions are taken in line with the company’s strategic priorities, endorsed and supported by the board of directors,” he said.
Questions were also sent to Mr Attard.
The State broadcaster also said the information requested by this newspaper “does not fall under the public service obligations or national Budget’s funding. No PSO funds are used for these Eurovision-related items and for the television production,” it said.
Concerns about this year’s Eurovision song contest were flagged to this newspaper before submissions for the national song contest were made.
There was disgruntlement, especially after Ms Losco competed with herself for a better song. When her original song, Chameleon, was heavily criticised PBS held a separate contest in which Ms Losco was the only contender, observers said.
Individuals posted comments on social media stating that if the organisers wanted Ms Losco to win they should have just made it clear from the outset.
In February, a blog by a Greek correspondent questioned why Jon Ola Sand, the executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest for the European Broadcasting Union, had visited Malta a number of times. This gave rise to speculation that Malta appeared to be the biggest favourite to win the contest.
Earlier this year, Luke Fisher, a former employee of the EBU, was recruited by PBS to manage media communications related to participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. His contract includes accommodation and utilities, a daily allowance plus paid travel. His full package is not known because PBS would not give any details.
There are then expenses related to Alex Zabotto, stylist for Ms Losco’s dresses, which includes a highly-promoted 7D coat estimated to cost €80,000 only to be abandoned. The cost excludes expenses related to Ms Losco’s other dresses and Mr Zabotto’s personal fees.
Stephen Bako, a choreographer, was also engaged as well as international artists Lars Safsund and Molly Peterson Hammer as backing vocals.
PBS would not even confirm the names and roles of the members of the Maltese delegation sent to Stockholm on May 1, two weeks before the competition. Neither would it give details on travel and accommodation expenses.
This newspaper is informed that 28 people went to the Swedish capital, including people who have no connection to PBS and whose role in the competition is unclear. They include employees at the Office of the Prime Minister.
This is what PBS replied when asked about the matter: “We constantly aim to reach high artistic and performance standards, particularly in this popular television production on a global platform, including our national participation in the Eurovision Song Contest in a highly competitive and cut-throat context involving 42 competing countries.”