Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ruth Harley, please either sue me or apologize

It is a source of constant amazement to me that Glen Boreham and the Screen Australia Board have not said to Fiona Cameron and Ruth Harley:

“Either produce the correspondence you claim he has written and make Ricketson look like a liar and a fool in public and sue him for defamation or admit now that the correspondence does not exist and apologize to him for giving him the runaround this past 17 months.”

The problem with the latter course of action, of course, is that is raises the question:

“Why on earth has the Screen Australia Board, in full possession of the facts for 17 months, allowed the absurd situation to arise in which a filmmaker is banned from even talking to anyone at Screen Australia on what are clearly trumped up charges?”

A last minute apology would leave the Board of Screen Australia, along with Harley and Cameron with a lot of egg on their faces. The former course of action, suing me, is fraught with difficulties also. Screen Australia would be obliged, in any court action, to produce the correspondence it claims “places our staff at risk” and which amounts to “harassment and intimidation. The Screen Australia Board knows that such correspondence does not exist and whilst it is able to hide its complicity in my banning by remaining silent, silence will not be an option available to it in a court of law, tribunal or board that might hear the matter.

Ruth Harley claims that my “public statements in relation to our staff have also caused distress, and appear to be calculated to damage the reputation of individuals and this organization.” This is worth a closer look. The reputation of an individual or an organization (myself and Screen Australia in this case) is the byproduct of their actions, not of their words. If I have harassed, intimidated or placed Screen Australia staff at risk it is only right and proper that my reputation should suffer as a result if the relevant correspondence sees the light of day. Having consistently denied having harassed, intimidated or placed anyone at risk, such correspondence would  leave me open to the valid accusation that I have played fast and loose with the truth. Or, to use the terminology I prefer, that I am a liar.

Let’s just say, for arguments sake, that the correspondence, when released (as it will be one day) reveals that I am a liar. Public statements about me to that effect will be made and these will cause me a great deal of distress. However, it will by my own actions, my own lies, that have brought this distress upon myself and I should expect no sympathy from anyone. Likewise, if I cause Harley and Cameron distress by calling them liars and it is demonstrated that the correspondence they refer to does not exist (ie, they lied), they will have brought the distress upon themselves and should expect no sympathy.

It is worth adding here that the only recipients of letters or emails from me who might have been ‘distressed’ by their contents are members of senior management at Screen Australia – Ross Mathews, Fiona Cameron and Ruth Harley. There is only one member of Screen Australia staff to whom I have written emails that might have caused distress who is not a member of senior management. Here is the first email, name redacted for the time being, written three months into this dispute – to someone who was (and remains) in a position to either confirm or deny my version of what occurred in and around the time of my first application for development funds for CHANTI’S WORLD.

This was written on  24th Feb 2011

“Dear XXX

It is a great shame that I should ever have been put in the position of having to ask you to verify my account of what occurred with CHANTI'S WORLD. Or not verify it, as the case may be.  It is a great shame that Ross (Mathews) and Julia (Overton), through their silence, left me with no option but to ask you. However, given that I did ask and given that you have been all along in a position to refute or verify my account, it is disappointing that you have kept your silence. Perhaps you have been told to by Fiona (Cameron). Perhaps you will be obliged to forward this email on to her - the black hole within Screen Australia into which difficult questions disappear.

I am copying this to Rachel Perkins in the hope that either she may call you and ask a few pertinent questions or that you may call her and volunteer the information.

Perhaps Screen Australia hopes, if it ignores my questions for long enough, at every level up to the Board, that the problem my questions speak to will magically disappear. And perhaps it will, but the fat lady hasn't quite sung yet!”

I waited 8 months before writing a follow-up email to this Screen Australia employee. In the absence of a resolution by the end of the week (an apology and a retraction of false allegations), I will publish it next Monday. It is not something that I want to do (it will cause distress) but I have very few weapons with which to fight this battle at present other than this blog – especially now that Encore has effectively banned any further online discussion about it. Perhaps, if I continue with my blog long enough it will eventually dawn on someone (Screen Australia Board, Simon Crean, the Ombudsman) to ask Harley and Cameron to produce the correspondence that will confirm that I have been lying all along about its non-existence. Or, alternatively, that Harley and Cameron have been lying about its existence.

A few words are in order about Encore, whose editor (Tim Burrows) has decided to terminate the thread of comments following the article published a couple of weeks ago. A couple of points. When the article appeared it contained one error that I asked, by way of a comment, to be corrected. It was:
To set the record straight, ENCORE, I have NEVER complained about my documentary project not receiving funding. I did, however, complain that in the process of assessing a development application 2 years ago, Screen Australia (by its own admission) failed to view the ‘promo’ that contained, in 8 minutes, 15 years in the life of the central character in the documentary…etc.”
 The comment was not published. In an email to Tim Burrows I asked him to correct the error:

“It is four days now since I pointed out to you and Colin that my complaint about Screen Australia was NOT that it had refused to fund my documentary. I have never made such a complaint about this or any other project of mine every in 40 years of filmmaking. This was an understandable mistake but one that should have been corrected by allowing my comment to be published.  Screen Australia's most common response to any critic is that he or she is embittered by rejection and not publishing a correction in this case feeds right into Screen Australia's modus operandi.

Even at this late date I would appreciate that my comment be published or that there be some acknowledgment that my complaint is not about not receiving funding but about the shoddy assessment I received - one which did not include the assessor (or anyone else in the Screen Australia documentary section) actually viewing the promo that was the centrepiece of my application.”

Tim did not respond to this request for a correction.

My complaint to Screen Australia vis a vis CHANTI’S WORLD had to do with due process. All that I ever asked for was an apology from Ross Mathews and Claire Jager for having assessed my project without viewing my ‘promo’ and an apology from Fiona Cameron for placing (and allowing to remain) on file a statement that she knew to be untrue vis a vis correspondence.

I have never been able to figure out the reason why Encore censors some comments and not others. The following, written yesterday in response to ‘Trevor’ was censored:
“Yes, Trevor, lots and lots of egg if the correspondence is released and it becomes clear that I have been playing fast and loose with the truth all along!

As for the Craig Thompson comparison, at least we know from evidence made public just what it is that he has been accused of. That I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk is a very vague charge and one that conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images. Such a serious charge requires, at the very least, some evidence in support of it. I have been asking for close to two weeks now for evidence that I have written the correspondence Harley refers to. To date my requests have fallen on deaf ears.”

I am not a lawyer but, for the life of me, I cannot fathom how this comment can be considered either libellous or defamatory! If it is, or if Screen Australia could run a case based on the premise that it was (and so intimidate Encore into practicing an extreme form of self-censorship), I fear for the quality of debate we will be able to have either in Encore or any other forum in which filmmakers toss around ideas or air their complaints.

1 comment:

  1. I don't bother with Encore anymore. Its become a light-weight gossip mag scared shitless of offending funding bodies or tackling contentious issues. There is a vacuum to be filled. A new online forum that has some of the free for all qualities that Encore used to have.