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Opinion & Analysis

#ThinkingAllowed: Is it music to our ears?

It was when I was back in Gibraltar for the Christmas break that I first heard the rumours about MTV taking over the Gibraltar Music Festival. As we know, very few things stay a secret in Gibraltar for long.
“Wow”, I thought. That will be great for the profile of this festival. But, something was making me uncomfortable about it. “Hold on”, I thought to myself as I enjoyed my cup of coffee in the Casemates sunshine.
I was tempted to open my laptop as soon as I got home and type away a column on why it may not be such a great idea. But based on purely a rumour and without knowing the details, that would have been irresponsible.
We are also being promised the “biggest and best festival in Gibraltar to date” and MTV does bring to the table a global distribution network and established worldwide reach. There is no doubting this will be great for the promotion of the festival and Gibraltar, as the Chief Minister has stated. He says “the advertising value of the agreement to Gibraltar is worth literally millions of pounds”. But, what are the terms and conditions of this agreement? For how long is this contract? What exactly is the financial deal?
MTV takes over a magnificent festival. You may agree or disagree with the choice of artists over the past few years. I certainly think they have been first class and the festival has grown tremendously since its creation five years ago. That success has been thanks to the sweat and tears (literally) of the Gibraltarians and local companies who tirelessly worked on it - developing it and making it what it is today.
Recently BBC Radio 1 announced its Big Weekend Festival for 2017 will include Kings of Leon and Little Mix. This shows you how spoilt we have been. We have had both and many more.
It’s always difficult, even impossible, to please everyone. So organisers need to look for what works for a majority while balancing budget, artist availability and other such factors.
I have seen many local musicians take to social media calling for local bands not to be ignored. That is certainly important in a Gibraltar Festival and as you know I was always a solid supporter of locally produced music during my time at Radio Gibraltar. The organisers are guaranteeing this and it will be brilliant if our best talent can get UK and international exposure through MTV social media accounts and TV allowing them to reach new audiences. (Perhaps more so online. In the UK their average viewing TV share percentage figures for December 2016 were lower than channels like Gold and Quest. Source: BARB).
But, isn’t it just as important to have local producers? There was no tender process, meaning local production/entertainment companies were excluded from bidding for the contract. We have been told MTV brings a buying power to contract bands that a local producer would struggle to match. So, having MTV, as part of the deal can be a good thing, but, why cannot locals lead on a Gibraltar festival for the people of Gibraltar?
Joining the recent press conference at which the announcement was made was Richard Coram of Neon Angel. I’m not sure his role or that of his company has been properly explained. I was left wondering whether this is a non-Gibraltar production company which is also involved. So, I asked. The Government says MTV and Neon Angel “came together to the table and are part of the development of a close working relationship with MTV in the run-up to the deal”. So, basically, the answer is 'Yes' because “their industry knowledge allows them to deliver event staging and production services to MTV’s standards and the sourcing of artists at more commercially attractive rates than Gibraltar-based entities have been or would reasonably be expected to be able to do”.
We obviously need our local producers to deliver a range of events for the Rock throughout the year. They too should be looked at when it comes to the big contracts and would hope this is not an indication that the floodgates have been opened for companies from abroad to take over, pushing the hard work of local producers over many years to one side.
I’m not advocating a closed shop - Gibraltar is open for business with international companies, just like we expect the world to be likewise.
It is the process by which MTV/Neon Angel came to be part of this that is dissatisfying. A private company, with no known prior connection to Gibraltar, has been awarded a massive contract, potentially worth millions of pounds, without the usual tender process.
The Government says the contract entered into for this year’s music week are exempt from procurement legislation. “With MTV, the exemption is driven by the nature of the services (filming and broadcasting) and by MTV being classified as an audio-visual service provider. Neon Angel’s exemption is down to the type of services (festival/cultural event organisation services) and the contract value (being well below the €750,000 procurement threshold)”, the spokesman told me.
I run a small, local production company too and, for the record, I did not wish to bid but feel it is a right that has been deprived generally, because of its direct adjudication.
Is it not the Chief Minister who has so widely promoted the values and talent of Gibraltarians, to lead in many fields because as he has constantly reminded us we traditional “punch above our weight?” Local producers have been snubbed.
More than 100 local people worked on this festival every year, many taking top jobs that allowed them to develop skills and valuable experience. Of course it has been a learning curve for everyone involved and possibly the new companies have a lot to offer, but I cannot help sense people feel a little bit stranded following this announcement. I headed to the GMF Facebook and Twitter accounts, which have 25,000 likes and more than 6,000 followers and found none had been updated, leaving an established audience somewhat lost.
The Minister for Culture, Steven Linares, was ambiguous when answering questions in Parliament. Although he indicated that local professionals will be part of it, this was not guaranteed. Quite frankly I do not see it working otherwise. Local knowledge in any festival or major event cannot be underestimated. Mr Linares said locals would be engaged but then said the contract was a “kind of franchise” and MTV would be able to choose its staff. Surely the parameters are clearly set out and defined in a contract. Which one is it then?
The Government spokesman told me MTV and Neon Angel will “be working closely with Owen Smith and Jonathan Scott (from Word of Mouth) and Dylan Ferro (from Axle Media)”, the former producers and “other local parties who wish to form part of the organisation of what will be a world-class event and a shop window for Gibraltar”. Why does it then strike me as odd that neither of the three names mentioned were part of the press conference line up? Confused by it all? So, am I!
I’m a great supporter of this festival and very much look forward to it. It is a brilliant investment in Gibraltar, even if it doesn’t make money. Events like this normally need to be subsidised by Governments (particularly here because we don’t have the audience capacity). An investment in entertainment is money well spent. The Government has told me that “MTV will receive a fixed payment for their filming and broadcasting services whereas Neon Angel will receive a fixed percentage of the overall project budget”. The exact fees and percentages will not be made public because they are “commercially sensitive” but the Government adds the budget for the event will “of course be made public” in the Government's Estimates of Expenditure for 17/18, to be published in May. Neon Angel is also committed to implementing new policies that should steer the festival towards a “self-financing model in the near future”.
As we start the guessing game as to what acts will perform at the renamed “Gibraltar Calling” festival and no matter how much spin Government put on it when it came to dishing out the contract for this, Fabian Picardo chose to go Red, White and Blue. Pity he didn’t opt for Red and White instead.