Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa on Monday sued the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, accusing the organization behind the Golden Globe Awards of antitrust violations and a “culture of corruption” that unlawfully denied her membership despite fulfilling all the requirements for admission.
Flaa, an L.A.-based Norwegian journalist who has represented Norwegian outlets like TV2 and Dagbladet for more than a decade, applied for membership in 2018 and 2019 and was rejected both times.
“The HFPA is so focused on protecting its monopoly position and taxfree benefits that it has adopted Bylaw provisions that exclude from membership all objectively qualified applicants who might possibly compete with an existing member,” according to the suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court. “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.”
In a statement, HFPA called Flaa’s complaint an attempted “shake down,” and disputed the accusations. “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 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,” the statement said.
“The HFPA takes seriously its obligations as an organization and its dedication to foreign journalism and philanthropy, and it will vigorously defend against these baseless claims.”
In addition to the HFPA, the suit names former and current presidents Meher Tatna and Lorenzo Soria as well as members Aud Berggren Morisse, Tina Johnk Christensen and Aniko Skorka Navai.
In her suit, Flaa claimed that applicants are “virtually always rejected because the majority of its 87 members are unwilling to share or dilute the enormous economic benefits they receive as members. Because the HFPA’s members will not admit anyone who might possibly compete with an existing member, either by selling to the same publications or to competing publications, the average age of HFPA members has steadily increased.”
As TheWrap exclusively reported, the HFPA rejected all five applicants for membership, all of whom met the HFPA criteria including two support letters from existing members, four clippings of their work from the last year. The organization postponed a vote on this year’s applicants until October, Flaa said.
“The HFPA’s requirements for admission to membership have both objective and subjective requirements. Both are skewed to keep new members out,” the lawsuit said. “Through this action, Plaintiff Flaa 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 anti-trust laws for the economic harm she has suffered as the result of defendants’ unlawful conduct.”
According to the filing, Flaa has been denied access to industry screenings and events, exclusive interviews with talent, as well as all-expenses-paid trips to film festivals and junkets around the world. Plus, every member save one is on the company’s payroll, and 20 of the 87 members serve on the chair committees for which each member is a paid a four-figure monthly salary, the lawsuit said.
Not being granted access, Flaa says, has caused her economic harm: “Foreign entertainment reporters in Los Angeles excluded from membership in the HFPA are greatly impaired in their ability to report stories that can generate meaningful income for them.”
The suit argues that members seek to reject applicants from their home territories. Swedish member Magnus Sundholm, the filing said, was blocked and rejected from the HFPA for eight years because Morisse, a Norwegian journalist, feared Sundholm might compete with her for work assignments. The lawsuit claimed Tatna “misrepresented facts to her fellow members to prevent a Singaporean journalist from gaining admission in 2015.” Tatna had started working for a Singaporean magazine although she is a citizen of India. Christensen is from Denmark, Navai is a citizen of Hungary, and Soria is from Italy.
Flaa also claims that “to ensure that [she] would not compete with them in ‘their’ markets of Norway and Denmark, Defendants Christensen and Morisse attempted to secure a signed agreement from Flaa committing Flaa to never compete with them as a quid pro quo for not blocking her admission.” She also said that Christensen attempted to persuade Frank Rousseau, one of Flaa’s sponsors, to withdraw his sponsorship of Flaa.
Flaa is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, prohibiting them from denying her admission to the HFPA and from denying future applicants a fair procedure. She also wants HFPA to modify its acceptance requirements.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.