A new report by The Washington Post accuses Netflix of sponsoring expensive, destination trips for journalists on the voting committee of the Critic’s Choice Awards in an attempt to garner votes for the streaming service’s productions.
Speaking with “three people who attended or are familiar with the events but were not authorized to speak about them publicly,” The Washington Post discovered that Netflix had sent journalists on four such trips this year in support of their films: events for The Irishman, Dolemite Is My Name, and The Two Popes were held in Los Angeles and an event for Marriage Story was held in New York.
These trips regularly included airfare, exclusive meetings with production members, and a room at expensive, upper class hotels:
“The journalists were put up at hotels that included the W, the Four Seasons and the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles and the JW Marriott Essex House in New York.
One CCA member who accepted a trip for “The Two Popes” said it included airfare to Los Angeles, a breakfast with filmmakers, tickets to a premiere at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre and a stay at the Beverly Hilton, the hotel where the Golden Globes take place. About 40 such people were on the trip, said the person, who asked not to be identified because they did not want to be known as having taken it.
“The Irishman” trip involved a private news conference with principals from the film, including Scorsese and Al Pacino; tickets to the premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre, which was turned into a New York street for the occasion replete with vintage cars and elaborate sets; packs of Uber vouchers; and a stay at the Four Seasons. Accommodations at the hotel range from $500 for the most basic room to more than $2,000 for a one-bedroom suite.”
The streaming service has drawn large amounts of criticism for these trips. One “executive at a rival company who asked not to be identified because the person was not authorized by the company to speak to the media” stated that these events differed from traditional press events because:
“There was no junket, no reason for the journalists to be there, no [significant] stories that came out of it. It was simply to spend money on them so they’d vote for the movie.”
It has also been noted that several Netflix nominees at the Critic’s Choice Awards, “such as best actor Robert De Niro from “The Irishman” or Murphy in “Dolemite is My Name,” did not appear on any other awards lists, which tend to have “stricter controls on what voters can accept.”
In response to an inquiry about the trips, the Critic’s Choice Association President, Joey Berlin, classified these lavish events as “press junkets.”
“We have no policy against press junkets, a well-established tradition in the movie business dating back almost a century. The Critics Choice Association represents the interests of our members, who are well served by this tradition of studios providing pre-release screenings and access to filmmakers and performers to enhance their coverage of movies.”
Following the publishing of The Washington Post’s report, Netflix provided a comment to the outlet defending the practice and similarly referring to the events as “junkets.”
“We’re incredibly proud of our films and that’s what we are focusing on. Hosting members of the media at junkets, news conferences and events is a long-standing industry practice — and one that all studios use.“
However, the ethics of these events have been called into question. Kathleen Culver, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, observed that these events are contributing to the public decline in trust towards journalists:
“You’re seeing it across so many spheres where trust in journalism is going down. If a critic is getting jetted out to L.A. and staying at the Four Seasons, it makes consumers wonder if they’ve become a promotional tool of the industry. When you’re a critic you’re being paid for your opinion, and what the audience needs is for your opinion to be trustworthy. And if a reviewer is giving an opinion on ‘Marriage Story’ and they’re getting lavish gifts from Netflix, the audience is going to find it less trustworthy.”
Samuel Freedman, a teacher of journalism ethics at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, pinned the responsibility for this ethics breach on the individual journalists:
“I don’t blame Netflix for trying to influence a vote — that’s what they’re in the business of doing. I blame news organizations at the both the level of the individual critic and the level of whoever is in charge of ethics. I don’t think it’s a secret to any news organization that you’re not supposed to take a freebie, especially a trip to a big coastal city that puts you in the presence of a filmmaker with the intent to dazzle you and turn your head.”