Wednesday, June 27, 2012

letter to Simon Crean

Like so many ostriches, Ruth Harley, Fiona Cameron, Glen Boreham and members of the Screen Australia Board, along with Simon Crean and the office of the Prime Minister presume that if they bury their heads in the sand, pretend that no problems exists here, hey presto, there is no problem! After all, who cares what a few hundred readers of Ricketson's blog think! We'll just ride this one out until Ricketson runs out of steam. He's played all his cards by now, surely! If even the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge receipt of his letters, what do we have to worry about? Nothing, right!?

The Hon Simon Crean
c/o Caroline Fulton
Acting Assistant Secretary
Creative Industries and Sector Development
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Office for the Arts
GPO Box 6500
ACT 2600                                                                                                26th June 2012

Dear Minister 

I am as tired of writing letters to you as it must be tiresome for whoever’s job it is to ignore my letters to receive yet another one from me! “Damn, it’s that bloody Ricketson again! When will he give up!” I can only speculate as to what level within your Ministry a decision has been made not to even acknowledge receipt of my letters.

All it would take to bring my letter writing to an end (a relief for all concerned!) would be one phone call from some senior member of the Ministry for the Arts to Ruth Harley to ask her to provide the evidence in support of my banning that she refers to but will not reveal.  Ms Harley will either produce the correspondence and prove me a liar for claiming it does not exist or not produce it and prove herself one. Perhaps the reason why the question has not been put to Ms Harley during the past six weeks is that, your ministry having ignored my original complaint for 18 months, for it to acknowledge now that it had merit would raise the question: “Why did your ministry not intervene 18 months ago when it could have been sorted out quickly and relatively painlessly?”  The same applies to the Ombudsman, who also seems fearful of asking Ruth Harley for evidence to back up her ban lest there be no evidence!

My enclosed letter to Rachel Perkins, a member of the Screen Australia Board speaks for itself of my determination to get Ruth Harley to either release the correspondence (or extracts thereof) that she has referred to as Screen Australia’s reason for banning me or to lift the ban and apologize to me for placing it in the first place. Yes, both you and the Ombudsman can continue to bury your bureaucratic heads in the sand. After all, all I have to continue my fight to clear my name with now is a blog in cyberspace and if you ignore me for long enough I’ll just give up eventually, right?


best wishes

James Ricketson
cc Commonwealth Ombudsman

Monday, June 25, 2012

letter to Rachel Perkins

Rachel Perkins
Blackfella Films
10 Cecil Street
NSW 2021

26th June 2012

Dear Rachel

You are a member of the Screen Australia Board. The Board voted to ban me from having any further dealings with Screen Australia. The Board did not require of Ruth Harley that she provide evidence in support of this ban. I maintain that there is no evidence; that Ruth has abused the power vested in her by the Board in a ham-fisted attempt to silence a critic and cover up a cockup that occurred within Screen Australia in 2010 and which would have been appropriately dealt with at the time if Screen Australia had a functioning complaints process. If Ruth has proof that I have placed members of Screen Australia staff at risk of any kind, please ask her to make it public.

I have asked the Chair of the Board, Glen Boreham, the same questions I am asking you here. Many times. Glen has ignored my requests. I am now asking you to do so in your capacity as a board member and as a fellow filmmaker who must, I am sure, be aware of the ramifications for a filmmaker of being banned by Screen Australia.

The question for Ruth is a simple one:

“Please provide both the Screen Australia Board and James Ricketson with the dates on which he wrote either letters or emails that you believe contain evidence that he has harassed, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff?”

This will take less than five minutes of your time, Rachel, and I do not think it would be unreasonable to expect of Ruth that she provide the evidence within 24 hours. If Ruth can provide no evidence the ban on me should be lifted immediately and I should receive from both Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board a public apology.

Ruth’s ban of me, with the blessing of the Board, is the culmination of a dispute that began 18 months ago and which you have been aware of since Feb 2011 when I first wrote to you and Robert Connolly in your capacities as Board Members. To paraphrase my email of Feb 2011:

“Please ask Fiona Cameron to release the correspondence of mine she refers to in her letter to me dated 12th Nov 2010 and ask Ross Mathews if he and Claire Jager viewed the ‘promo’ that accompanied my first CHANTIS WORLD application in mid 2010 – the point at which this dispute really begins.”

I do appreciate, Rachel, that you are in the middle of a production now but 18 months is a long time for me to wait to get simple answers to simple questions.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Sunday, June 24, 2012

4000 Page Hits

At some time this week a follower of my blog will be the 4000th reader of a page of my blog since 10th May  - the day that Ruth Harley announced her ban. That’s around 570 page hits a week or an average of 80 page hits a day. Given that the pattern of hits shows up on a graph on my computer my guess is that each visitor reads up to 10 blog entries. Whilst I can only speculate on how many individuals have actually visited by blog my guess (and I could be way off-beam) is between 200 and 300. And some of these visitors may have nothing at all to do with the Australian film industry. The map that lights up those countries from which I receive blog visits includes Russia, Brazil and China! Maybe my estimate of between 200 and 300 is too high. Perhaps there are hordes of Russians, Brazilians and Chinese with nothing better to do with their time than visit the blogs of strangers on the other side of the world! Perhaps they are looking for opportunities link with blogs that might be beneficial to them for commercial reasons. I have received one such offer, so who knows!

The majority of hits come from Australia however so, working on the presumption that two thirds of my estimated 200 – 300 blog readers are Australian, between 140 and 200 Australians (presumably mostly people involved in the film industry) are now aware of my ongoing dispute with Screen Australia. Some no doubt will have arrived at the conclusion that I am a nutter who has lost the plot and who is fighting a losing battle in which victory, even if I were to eventually achieved it, would be phyrric at best. After all, even a lifting of the official Screen Australia Board-endorsed ban (yes, the Board voted on it) would still leave open the very real possibility of an unofficial ban being kept in place – against which there can be no defence. Such unofficial bans (filmmakers marginalized) are in place already but we do not, as an industry, say anything about them. Not in public, anyway. If the ban applies to another producer, director, screenwriter, who amongst us wants to speak out in their fellow-filmmaker’s defence and be likewise marginalized? And if the filmmaker who feels very strongly that s/he is a victim of an unofficial ban, has been unfairly marginalized, any complaint to that effect will not only fall on deaf ears (Fiona Cameron’s) but can be characterized as embitterment at not having received funding. This is the brute reality that all filmmakers confront. If you already belong to the club of favoured filmmakers (producers, directors, screenwriters) speaking out, rocking the boat, questioning the status quo, is not a good career move. 

And if at present you are either young and inexperienced or for some other reason are not a member of the club but wish to be, it is best to do or say nothing that might prevent you from becoming a member. And so it is that the status quo is maintained by those within the club and by those who head it up and control the purse strings. 

Writ small, in microcosm if you like, this is how dictatorships posing as democracies (Egypt, for instance) remain in power for as long as they do – maintaining control of the only mechanisms (the courts) whereby the populace might be able to seek redress. And then one day, as we have seen in the ‘Arab spring’ this past 18 months, the general populace says ‘No more’ and they take to the streets and demand change. The problem with this dynamic, as is being made manifest in Egypt right now, is the very real possibility that one set of tyrants is replaced by another.

If nothing else, my experience with Screen Australia should at least raise the question in the minds of fellow filmmakers: “Is there any way in which those of us who are not members of the club can seek justice if we feel that we have been ill-treated by Screen Australia?” Or, to put it another way, “Have the mechanisms whereby justice might prevail been co-opted by the clique that runs the industry?” Even for those who may think I am a nutter, this strikes me as being a question well worth asking. But who is going to ask it? More importantly, who is going to answer it? The answer, based on my experience at least: No-one.

One solution to the problem of giving a small group of people too much power for too long is to limit the time that people in positions of considerable power are able to exercise their power – like limiting the number of terms a US President can serve to two. In the context of our industry this means limiting the periods of time that senior executives involved in making creative decisions can hold their positions to 3 – 4 years. Yes, during those 3 – 4 years they may be able to help out their mates and marginalize those they do not like, but with a constant turnover of creative decision-making personnel neither the mates being helped nor the marginalized being hindered would have to wait too long before their fortunes changed – for better or for worse.  But even in an ideal world in which cliques did not form and those in power did not help their mates, in an industry such as ours it is essential that there be a diversity of views informing Screen Australia policy and not the same people year after year.

A 3 or 4 year time limit for all creative management positions within Screen Australia is just one of the structural changes that would, I believe, make it much harder for self-serving cliques to establish a power base and maintain it over a period of years – as has happened within our own industry. There are other structural changes that I believe should be made but I will not go into them here. Whatever changes take place  under a new Chief Executive they need to be administered by one who is honest, who is honourable, who believes passionately in dialogue with filmmakers, who is committed to the precepts of transparency and accountability and who expects his or her staff to behave at all times in accordance with these values – with close-to-zero tolerance for those who do not. I say ‘close-to-zero’ because we are all capable of making honest mistakes. However, when an honest mistake is made there needs to be, within Screen Australia, a complaints mechanism whereby disputes arising from mistakes can be resolved quickly on the basis of facts; a complaints process run by someone who does not see his or her job as supporting Screen Australia staff regardless of the facts. No such process exists right now within Screen Australia up to and including the Screen Australia Board.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Questions arising from the banning of a filmmaker by Screen Australia

On one level, my dispute with Screen Australia, my having been banned by Ruth Harley from even speaking with members of SA staff, is of no real consequence to anyone other than myself.  There are however two reasons why I think the circumstances surrounding my banning are relevant to my fellow filmmakers:
(1) Let’s assume the worst case scenario (for me!) in which Ruth Harley releases correspondence I have written that provides evidence of my having harassed, intimidated and placed Screen Australia staff at risk; that Fiona Cameron releases correspondence that makes me appear not just a fool but one who hopes (nudge nudge, wink wink) that I can get Ross Mathews to breach SA guidelines and give me an assurance, in a meeting, that my project had been greenlit. Given that I have been asking for the correspondence that Ruth refers to for 5 weeks now and that to which Fiona refers for 18 months, why has it taken so long to release it – especially since its vindicate Screen Australia’s banning of me?  If Screen Australia is not going to be transparent and accountable when the facts are clear-cut (correspondence either exists or it doesn’t) and which it is clearly in their best interests to be so, what does this suggest about SA’s commitment to transparency and accountability in other less clear cut situations - ones in which a member of Screen Australia’s senior management has in fact played fast and loose with the truth in order to breach the organizations guidelines or Code of Conduct?
(2) If it transpires that correspondence of the kind that Ruth refers to (and Fiona Cameron 18 months earlier) does not exist, the film community, so dependent on Screen Australia for its creative and economic good health, will then be confronted with a series of realizations and questions:
- Why did the Screen Australia Board not step in and resolve Ricketson’s dispute on the basis of the known facts 18 months ago? Does the Board have any interest at all in the way Screen Australia is administered?
- Why did the office of Mr Crean not step in and ask questions of both Ruth Harley and Chair of the Board, Glen Boreham?
- Why did the Ombudsman not bother, 18 months ago, to even ask the few basic questions that would have led to the dispute being resolved in a matter of days? Why, given the seriousness of the punishment handed down to a filmmaker, will the Ombudsman not request of Ruth Harley that she release the relevant correspondence or extracts thereof? How efficiently is the Ombudsman likely to resolve other disputes in the future between filmmakers and Screen Australia? Can to Ombudsman be trusted or are filmmakers setting themselves up to be ‘banned’ (either officially or unofficially) for having made a complaint in the first place?
- Why has it been necessary for a filmmaker to go to such lengths, writing 40 or so entries in his blog, before the truth emerged?
And here are the most important questions of all for the industry to ponder:
- What else is being kept secret from us? What other battles are going on behind the scenes that we never hear about because the filmmakers (and film magazines?) have received legal threats – veiled or unveiled?
- How, as filmmakers, are we to get our complaints about Screen Australia, when and if they arise, dealt with in a fair and impartial manner?
The answer to these questions, broadly speaking, is that as things stand at present, with Screen Australia run as an autocracy without a functioning complaints system, filmmakers rights (or lack thereof) are subject to the whim of senior management within Screen Australia. Appealing to the Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, will yield no result other, perhaps, than a letter from a spin doctor. And appealing to the Commonwealth Ombudsman is no guarantee that questions will even be asked that make it possible for an impartial observer to adjudicate on the basis of facts as opposed to spin and lies.
For so much power to be concentrated in the hands of a handful of people in senior management within Screen Australia and a Board that places a rubber stamp on decisions made by them is a dangerous situation and good neither for the industry or culture of Australian film. If the industry as a whole does nothing to change this state of affairs, nothing will change.

Monday, June 18, 2012

letter to Senator George Brandis

The Hon George Brandis MP
Shadow Minister for the Arts
Commonwealth Parliament Offices
Level 36, Waterfront Place
1 Eagle Street
Brisbane QLD 4000                                                                                   
19th June 2012
Dear Senator Brandis

I wrote to both yourself and the Hon Simon Crean on 16th Sept last year to alert you to the fact that complains made to Chief Executive Ruth Harley and Chair of the Screen Australia Board about Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron’s playing ‘fast and loose with the truth’ were passed on to Fiona Cameron to deal with.  I quoted from a letter I wrote to Ms Harley:

“Isn’t Fiona’s tendency (of which there is ample evidence) to play fast and loose with the truth a breach of Screen Australia guidelines? Isn’t Fiona’s placing on file statements about correspondence she claims I have written to SA (but have not) a breach  SA guidelines?”

I did not receive a reply from Ms Harley. Nor did I receive a reply to my follow up letters of 12th and 13th Sept. It is not Ms Harley’s style to respond to letters; to answer questions. I did, however, get the following from Ms Cameron in an email. 

“…please do not continue to waste my time. Neither myself or any other Screen Australia representative will enter into any further correspondence regarding these matters.” 

On 14th Sept I wrote to Mr Glen Boreham, Chair of the Screen Australia Board complaining about Ms Harley’s refusal to answer three simple questions I had put to her and about Ms Cameron’s tendency to play fast and loose with the truth and, when asked to substantiate the factual accuracy of her statements, to declare that she will enter into no further correspondence. It would seem, from the tone of Ms Cameron’s response to yet another complaint about her, that Mr Boreham will ignore my letter. Presumably Ms Cameron wrote the following with Mr Borehams consent: 

“Thank you for your letter to Ruth Harley dated 13 September and to Glen Boreham dated 14 September, 2011. As previously advised Screen Australia will not enter into any further correspondence regarding the project Chanti’s World.”

Unlike Mr Crean you had the courtesy to reply to my letter of 16h Sept with a recommendation that I take the matter up with the Commonwealth Ombudsman. This I had already done, but to no avail. The Ombudsman has no apparent interest in the fact that Fiona Cameron investigates complaints made about herself, with the blessing of the Screen Australia Board, and that Ms Cameron  refuses to communicate with the complainant or answer any questions at all. Six months later Ruth Harley, again with the blessing of Glen Boreham and the Screen Australia Board, decided to ban me from even speaking with members of Screen Australia staff. The reason given was that I had, in my correspondence, intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. When asked to provide evidence of the charges laid against me, in the form of the relevant correspondence, Ruth Harley refused to do so. The same applied for Chair of the Board, Glen Boreham. At no level within Screen Australia is there the commitment to transparency and accountability that we have a right to expect from the organization – especially when up to $50 million of Australian tax-payer dollars are spent in the production of an American film such as “The Great Gatsby”.

I have asked the office of the Ombudsman repeatedly to request of Ms Harley that she release the offending correspondence in question or extracts from it. The Ombudsman does not respond in any way to my requests. I finished my letter to you and Mr Crean of 16th Sept with:

Of course the lack of accountability and transparency in this instance – the dishonesty, the lies - is, in the grand scheme of things, of minor significance…My own problem with Ms Cameron is merely symptomatic of the larger problem that exists within Screen Australia…The problem, in a nutshell, is that there is no watchdog keeping an eye on what goes on inside Screen Australia. The Board doesn’t keep a watchful eye on Ruth Harley, demand that she be accountable, Ruth Harley doesn’t keep a watchful and critical eye on Fiona Cameron and so on down the chain of command – rendering the organization an autocracy in which pretty well everyone in senior management can do as they please and be assured that no-one is going to stop them. A recipe for disaster!

The lack of accountability and transparency within Screen Australia is exacerbated by the refusal of the Ombudsman to ask even simple questions along the lines of: “Please, Ms Harley, could you produce the correspondence that you refer to as the basis for your banning of Mr Ricketson?”

In the event that you are Minister for the Arts next year I trust, Senator, that you will conduct a thorough review of the way in which Screen Australia is run and see to it that the organization has a functioning complaints process and a Board that does not see its job as merely placing a rubber stamp on decisions made by Ruth Harley – in this instance a decision to ban me made on the basis of a demonstrable lie. Ruth Harley could, of course, very easily reveal that it is me who is the liar and not herself by releasing the correspondence she refers to or the extracts within it that she claims have placed her staff at risk through intimidation or harassment. She will not and cannot do so because correspondence of the kind she refers to does not exist. The problem is that no-one – not the Ombudsman, Screen Australia Board or Mr Crean – has any interest in whether the correspondence exists or not. A strange state of affairs!

My most recent attempt, through FOI legislation, to obtain copies from Screen Australia of the correspondence I have supposedly written it to be found at:

In the interests of transparency and accountability I will publish this letter on the internet also.

best wishes

James Ricketson
cc Commonwealth Ombudsman

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Freedom of Information request

Nick Coyle
Freedom of Information Officer
Screen Australia
Level 4, 150 William St
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                                18th June 2012

Dear Nick

Ruth Harley, in her letter to me dated 10th May, claims that I have been intimidating, harassing and placing Screen Australia staff at risk with my correspondence to the organization. Please accept this letter as a formal request, using Freedom of Information legislation, to acquire copies of the correspondence Ruth is referring to. Fiona Cameron makes similar claims in her letter to me dated 12th Nov 2010. I would like copies of the correspondence that Fiona is referring to also.

In arriving at her decision to ban me Ruth Harley must have been relying on information provided to her by the members of the Screen Australia staff who believed that they were being harassed, intimidated and placed at risk. I would like to get copies of whatever documents exist in relation to such complaints by members of SA staff– be they email exchanges, letters, notes taken at meetings, reports, any form of internal communication within Screen Australia relating to the correspondence Ruth refers to in her letter to me of 10th May.

In relation to the Screen Australia Board I would like to be provided with copies of any documents that Ruth Harley presented to it prior to my banning – either by way of gaining the Board’s approval for her intention to ban me or informing the Board of her reason, after the event, for having done so. My intention here is to find out if the Screen Australia Board (1) voted to ban me, (2) ratified Ruth Harley’s decision to ban me after the event or, (3) knew nothing of the ban either before or after Ruth Harley imposed it. If (3) be the case I wish to acquire copies of any documents that exist pertaining to Glen Boreham and the Board’s response to my banning in the past five weeks, since the ban was imposed. Has Glen Boreham or any other member of the Board sighted the documents Ruth Harley refers to that bear witness to my having harassed, intimidated or placed Screen Australia staff at risk? If the matter has been raised in a Board meeting I would like to acquire copies of whatever Screen Australia Board documents I am entitled to under FOI legislation relating to my banning.

Because my being banned has been conducted in such secrecy, with no warning, no evidence presented and no right of appeal,  because Ruth Harley has made it quite clear that she has no intention of providing me with copies of the correspondence she is referring to in her letter of 10th May and no intention of communicating with me, this FOI request something of a fishing expedition. I don’t know what documents I need to prove, in court, that Ruth Harley is lying when she claims that I have been harassing, intimidating and placing at risk members of her staff. I do know, however, that my innocence of the crimes I have been charged with (and found guilty of by Screen Australia) can be established if it is demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the offending correspondence does not exist. And it is my contention that the correspondence in support of the Screen Australia ban does not exist.

I find myself in the exceedingly odd position of making a Freedom of Information request for copies of non-existent correspondence. In the event that you cannot produce the correspondence that Ruth Harley is referring to in a timely fashion (and that to which Fiona Cameron refers to) I think it fair to work on the presumption that no such correspondence exists. It would be helpful, Nick, if you could let me know within what time frame I might expect to get a respond to my FOI request?

In keeping with my decision to be totally transparent and accountable in my dealings with Screen Australia in relation to my being banned I am publishing this letter to you on the internet. I will likewise publish whatever correspondence you provide me with as evidence in support of my having been banned. I will let those who follow my blog, fellow filmmakers, decide, on the basis of facts and not on mere assertions and spin, whether it is me who is lying or Ruth Harley.

I am also copying this to the Hon Simon Crean and to the Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman – despite both having decided to ignore my request that Ruth Harley release the correspondence she refers to in her letter of 10th May.

best wishes

James Ricketson
cc the Hon Simon Crean
Ms Alison Larkins,  Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman

Thursday, June 14, 2012

letter to the Ombudsman 15th June 2012

Ms Alison Larkins
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442, Canberra
15th June 2012

Dear Ms Larkins

re 2010-118398

Following on from my letter of 25th May and my several letters previous to it. As the months drag by with no resolution in sight I can’t help but think of what the alternative might have been, had Alisa Harris asked Fiona Cameron to produce the correspondence she referred to in Nov 2010 and to spend five minutes on the phone asking a few questions of staff within the documentary section of Screen Australia. One way or another the matter would have, or at least could have, been resolved in an hour. Alisa would have discovered that the correspondence did not exist and that Ross Mathews and Claire Jager had not seen the ‘promo’ for my CHANTI’S WORLD project. An apology could have been given to me and the matter would have been over and done with.

Surely, some part of the role of the Ombudsman’s office is to defuse disputes before they get out of hand as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and waiting till hostilities occur of the kind that both parties find it difficult to back away from. I am not going to back away because I have been defamed and my capacity to work in my chosen profession has been adversely affected by my being banned. And Ruth Harley can’t back down without making the implicit admission that she should have and could so easily have resolved the matter 18 months ago .

The same applies with Ruth Harley’s banning of me five weeks ago now. Your office was made aware of this new development almost immediately and could, if it had chosen to do so, asked Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence she was referring to in justification of her banning to whoever it is that is investigating matter # 2010-118398. If Ruth Harley produced the correspondence and it contained clear evidence of the crimes of intimidation, harassment and placing at risk of Screen Australia staff, this would have been immediately apparent and a letter could have been sent to me by your office declaring this to be the case. The matter would have come to an abrupt end and I, with egg all over my own face for having lied about the non-existence of correspondence, would have had to crawl into a hole and lick my (self-inflicted) wounds. Alternatively, Ruth Harley would have had to admit that correspondence of the kind I have been accused of writing does not exist and apologize. Yes, egg all over Ruth Harley’s face but the matter would then have been closed and a great deal of time and energy saved on the parts of many people – including that of whoever it is in your office that is investigating this matter.

Is it possible for your office to give me some indication as to whether or not it intends to ask Ruth Harley to produce the offending correspondence? If the answer is ‘no’, if it is not the role of Ombudsman’s office to do so, I can stop wasting my own and your time by continuing to write to you regarding the matter. If the office of the Ombudsman cannot ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence (or relevant extracts from it) I am at a loss to know how the Ombudsman can determine whether my being banned is appropriate or inappropriate. If it is possible to get an answer to this one question from yourself that would be much appreciated.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Ruth Harley resigns for family reasons"

Ruth Harley resigns for family reasons
This is the headline I long to read – ‘family reasons’ being a favoured euphemism in this day and age when senior government executives are either fired or asked to resign. 
When I started asking questions of Screen Australia 18 months ago I did so in the naïve belief that someone  further up the food chain than Fiona Cameron would ask her to produce the correspondence she referred to in a letter of 12th Nov 2010 that essentially brands me as being a liar. When it became apparent that no-one, up to and including the Ombudsman, was going to ask Fiona to do so, I could have just given up there and admitted defeat. This would probably have been the sensible course of action. And it was certainly the course of action Screen Australia expected me to take. But no, with what is probably a deep-seated streak of masochism, I decided to plough on and see how many letters I would have to write to get some answers. A lot, I discovered, but to no avail. No-one was going to answer any questions. So, I thought to myself, why not post my questions on the internet and embarrass Screen Australia, the Ombudsman, Simon Crean into answering them. No joy here either. Other than a half-heated threat to sue from Ruth Harley, no answers have been forthcoming. With no more bridges to burn I will plough on and see if there is any way at all of getting someone from the Prime Minister down to ask Ruth Harley to either produce the correspondence (or extracts thereof) or apologize for both Screen Australia’s cockup and the subsequent lies told in order to cover up the cockup.
My latest letter to Ruth Harley speaks for itself:
Ruth Harley
CE, Screen Australia
Level 4
150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                    14th June 2012

Dear Ruth

It comes of course as no surprise to me that you do not respond to my letters since you have made it clear that you would not do so. It also comes as no real surprise to me that you have not carried out your barely veiled threat to sue me for calling you a liar in public. A court case would prove very embarrassing to you since, regardless of the outcome, any public release of the letters that you claim bear witness to the crimes you have charged and convicted me of would reveal that you are indeed a liar. The same applies for the correspondence that Fiona Cameron claimed existed back in Nov 2010 and which, as you know (and have done for 18 months), does not exist.

It comes as no real surprise to me that Glen Boreham and the Screen Australia Board have no interest in whether or not the Chief Executive of SA is a liar. The Board seems to accept unquestioningly the proposition that I have intimidated, harassed and placed at risk Screen Australia staff. It comes as no real surprise either that Rachel Perkins and Robert Connolly could vote for the banning of a fellow filmmaker without any evidence being presented in support of such a ban. And it comes as no surprise either, through months of silence and the lack even of the acknowledgement of receipt of letters, that Simon Crean is likewise uninterested in whether you have lied to provide justification for your banning of a filmmaker. And it comes as no real surprise now that the Ombudsman, whose office never bothered to ask Fiona to produce the correspondence she said existed back in Nov 10, is not prepared to ask you to produce the offending correspondence you claim exists. What does come as a surprise to me is that I am no longer surprised that Screen Australia is so lacking in adhering to even the basic fundamentals transparency and accountability. It would come as a real surprise if it did begin the behave in accordance with these precepts.

The Australian Film Industry needs, as Chief Executive and as the Chief Operating Officer of our peak funding body senior executives who are committed to honesty, transparency and accountability and who behave at all times with the highest degree of integrity. You and Fiona have failed the integrity test. Please just go. Resign for ‘family reasons’. And take Fiona with you. Alternatively, release the correspondence you and Fiona claim to exist and to be worthy of my banning. If you can do that, if I am the liar and not yourself, I do not deserve to be a part of the film community and my being banned is appropriate punishment.

best wishes

James Ricketson


Thursday, June 7, 2012

open letter to Rachel Perkins and Robert Connolly

Dear Rachel and Robert

I have written to you both several times this past 15 months in the hope that you might, as members of the Board (and as practicing filmmakers), take an interest in my long-running dispute with Screen Australia – not on the basis of spin but on the basis of verifiable facts. Neither of you has had the professional courtesy to even acknowledge receipt of my letters or emails.

On 22nd May I wrote yet another letter to Glen Boreham in which I asked the question:

“Did Ruth Harley consult with yourself and the Board before taking the unprecedented step of banning a filmmaker from not only making applications but of speaking with anyone at Screen Australia? If the Screen Australia Board was consulted, did any member of it ask to see the correspondence Ruth Harley refers to in support of her ban? Or was the Screen Australia Board prepared to take Harley at her word?”

Glen has not responded to my letter to date so let me put the question to you both: 

Did Ruth Harley present the Board with the proposition that I should be banned on the basis of my having intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff? If so, did either of you request that Ruth provide evidence to back up her accusations or did you simply take her word for it that such correspondence existed?

Disappearing comments!?

Some aspects of this blogging business continue to confuse and intrigue me – most particularly the way in which posts and comments simply disappear for no apparent reason. The following comment appeared yesterday in response to my open letter to Tim Burrows and I responded to it. For a while it was up on my blog and then disappeared. God knows why! Here it is again:
“For the information of those who may be unaware of it, Encore has form when it comes to censorship. Last year, at an industry forum, Encore was instructed by Screen Australia that the magazine would be able to broadcast the speeches given by the pannelists (one of whom was Ruth Harley) but would not be able to film or broadcast any of the questions and answers that followed. The reason for this is that Encore has, in the past, broadcast online material that Screen Australia has objected to being out in the public domain. When Tim Burrows claims that he was under no pressure at all from Screen Australia to terminate the discussion about the banning of Ricketson he may well have been speaking the truth. Judging by the comment of my own that was censored and comments by others that were censored Burrows may well be fearful of receiving a nasty letter from Screen Australia's legal department if he allows through what he refers to as defamatory comments but which may well be merely statements of fact. And who can blame him for being cautious. The mafia only has to actually perform the occasional kneecapping for its 'clients' to get the message. My reading of Ruth Harley's letter to Ricketson is that its purpose was to intimidate him with its barely veiled threat to sue him. This was the stick. The carrot was, if you read the subtext, 'Stop calling Fiona Cameron a liar in public and we'll consider welcoming you back into the fold of filmmakers we will deal with." Whether Cameron or Harley are liars or not I cannot say but it would be so easy for them to prove that they are not and totally demolish Ricketson. Why don't they? It is not just Encore that should be asking questions and it is not just people in the film industry who should be concerned. These are powerful people whose wages are paid by the Australian tax-payers. They have a right to expect of the Chief Executive the highest level of integrity and honesty.
My response:
You are right about Harley’s capacity to demolish me. She could, so easily, if she could produce evidence of the crimes she has charged, found me guilty of and sentenced me for. She wont release the evidence because she can’t. It doesn’t exist. He real problem here is that no-one will insist upon her releasing it – not the Screen Australia Board, not the office of the Minister for the Arts, not Encore magazine or any other film journalist. I find this odd. What is being set here is a very dangerous precedent. What if this same lack of transparency and accountability were to be applied to something really significant to all of us in the industry and Harley (or her successor) simply brushes off all questions with, “No comment.”
As for censorship of the Industry Forum by Encore, the organizer of the Forum (who has no relationship with Encore) explained why the filming of mission statements could occur but not the Q & A that followed, in the following way:
“Just confirming I am not having filming of questions. This is the decision of the organisers, and the speakers were not even consulted on this.

I am an experienced organiser of events and too often I have seen creatives that do not often do public speaking regularly and audience members make statements they later would prefer not to be on the web.

With the seminar I mentioned earlier that I filmed and dumped the footage the speakers knew they were being filmed and said afterwards they did not want it on the web. People should be allowed to say whatever they like in the moment and I am protecting that right.”
My own questions to the panel were censored, as were the questions of other questioners. Again, this was not an Encore decision. It was explained to me that the censoring was so as not to hurt the feelings of filmmakers in the audience or of the panel onstage. It is hard to see the point in forums if we can only say things in public that are not going to hurt someone’s feelings. I had a film of mine voted the 3rd worst at a film festival once. Yes, my feelings were hurt. So what. No one is twisting my arm and forcing me to be a filmmaker who puts his films out into the world to be assessed, criticized and, if need be found to be the third worst. Why are film bureaucrats a protected species when it comes to criticism of the role they play within Australian film?

open letter to Tim Burrows, editor of Encore

Dear Tim

Filmmaker lies on blog” is not news. “Chief Executive of Screen Australia lies about her reasons for banning filmmaker” is news.  The stakes are too high for the film industry for Encore to accept ‘no comment’ as an adequate or appropriate answer from Ruth Harley when asked to provide evidence of a course of action as drastic as the banning of a filmmaker.  

It is, I believe, part of the role of Encore and other film magazines (and journalists) to not merely report the news but subject it to critical analysis. What is at stake here in this banning above and beyond its effect on one filmmaker? What are the possible ramifications for the industry at large from this unprecedented action taken by Screen Australia? What is to prevent Ruth Harley (or her successor) from applying the same principle (‘no comment’) whenever s/he is asked to be transparent and accountable in relation to other contentious decisions?  Should we, as an industry, accept ‘no comment’ as adequate under circumstances such as these?

Are there any circumstances under which, if Screen Australia’s response to a question is “no comment”,  Encore would say, “That’s not good enough. In the interests of transparency and accountability our readers have a right to know why you have made such a momentous decision.”

The banning of one filmmaker is not a momentous decision if he or she were guilty of the crime for which s/he had been charged. But if s/he is innocent surely such an abuse of power, such lying on the part of the Chief Executive of a tax-payer funded film body, is a matter of concern for the whole industry.

Encore could find out who is lying in this instance by requesting that Ruth Harley release the correspondence she claims bears witness to the allegations that she has made. Or she could release selected extracts from them. It is not enough for a publication as influential at Encore to simply take Ruth Harley at her word that the correspondence exists.

If the released documents contain evidence of my harassing, intimidating or placing Screen Australia staff at risk, you should publish them (or extracts) in Encore. I will look like both a fool and a liar, and deservedly so. If Harley refuses to release even extracts from the offending correspondence and deflects Encore’s requests with ‘no comment’ some interrelated and overlapping questions of consequence to the industry as a whole arise:

- Have other filmmakers been effectively banned by Screen Australia on the basis of evidence not made public?

- Given the lack within Screen Australia of an appeals process what is to prevent the organization from treating other filmmakers in the same way in the future – accusing them of crimes but providing no evidence in support of the accusations?

- Is the way in which this banning was carried out (no warning, no evidence, no right of appeal) a precedent we want to set within the industry?

- Is it appropriate that complaints made about the Chief Operating Officer of Screen Australia are adjudicated by the Chief Operating Officer of Screen Australia?

- Given the inability of the Ombudsman to deal effectively with disputes such as this one, why is there no independent appeals process external to Screen Australia whereby a banned filmmaker can argue his or her case as to why s/he should not be banned?

- Why does the Ministry for the Arts not make available (insist upon) such an independent appeals process?

- Might there be some other reason than the one given why a filmmaker is banned?

These are just some of the questions I believe to be of importance to the industry as a whole.

As a significant player in Australian film (both its industry and culture) Encore should, I believe, ask the ADG, SPAA and the Writers Guild how they feel about the precedent that has been set with the banning of one filmmaker? Are these organizations happy with the possibility that Screen Australia has as its Chief Executive, a woman who is not committed to the principles of transparency and accountability and who plays fast and loose with the truth?



Sunday, June 3, 2012

letter to Hon Bronwyn Bishop, 1st. June

To be banned by Screen Australia is no small thing. All film producers, directors and other filmmakers know how difficult it is to get a film made in Australia without quite substantial input and assistance from Screen Australia. To be banned from even having a conversation with anyone within the organization renders the making of films just that much more difficult. To be banned has the added effect of tarnishing your reputation, adding yet another obstacle. Certain letters, calls and emails are not returned and who can blame the recipient of them! Do they really want to be publicly associated with a filmmaker who has intimidated, harassed and placed Screen Australia staff at risk? Being persona non grata with Screen Australia is not a great career move. It is also not a status that any self-respecting filmmaker can accept without a fight – especially when he is not guilty of the crimes Ruth Harley has both accused and convicted him of.

My battle now has one primary objective – to get someone with the authority to do so to ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence she has used as the basis for my banning. If she cannot, the whole house of cards on which her accusation rests will collapse. It is a house of cards whose construction began 18 months ago now and is so far advanced that it would now be embarrassing for a variety of people to allow it to collapse – people who, 18 months ago, could have intervened and prevented a mole hill becoming a mountain.

Whilst my dispute with Screen Australia simmered for some time before really getting under way, the moment it became serious was when Fiona Cameron wrote a letter to me on 12th Nov 2010 in which she made statements that were demonstrably untrue – namely that I had placed certain correspondence on file at Screen Australia. I asked Fiona to produce the correspondence. She refused to do so. Ruth Harley also refused to identify the correspondence in question so I appealed to Glen Boreham, Chair of the Screen Australia Board, for his assistance in resolving my dispute. In his letter  to me of 1st. Dec. 2010 Glen made his position clear. This is “an operational matter,” he wrote, “most appropriately handled by management rather than the Board, and I do not intend to enter into further correspondence with you on this.” The refusal to enter into further correspondence is standard operating procedure when senior management at Screen Australia are asked questions they would prefer not to answer. Questions like: “Which correspondence are you referring to?”

Glen was right on one level. Neither he nor the Board should have to take an interest in a dispute such as the one that had arisen. However, given that neither Fiona Cameron nor Ruth Harley were prepared to identify the correspondence in question back in Nov 2010, to whom could I turn? I tried Ministry for the Arts but was told that it was a matter for Screen Australia to deal with. My next port of call was the office of the Ombudsman. Surely, I thought to myself, the Ombudsman would insist that Fiona Cameron identify the correspondence she was referring to!  Surely the Ombudsman would ask the few questions that needed to be asked in order for my complaint to be dealt with expeditiously on the basis of verifiable facts and not on the basis of spin  and reference to correspondence that does not exist? No, the office of the Ombudsman does not work this way, I was to discover.

“It is not the role of the Ombudsman to...adjudicate disputed versions of events between agency officers and complainants,” wrote Alisa Harris of the Ombudsman’s office in Jan 2011. If it is not the role of the Ombudsman to adjudicate disputed versions of events, whose role is it?   Screen Australia has a formal complaints process, hasn’t it? Yes, it does. And who administers (adjudicates) complaints made about Screen Australia? Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron. And who adjudicates complaints made about Fiona Cameron’s refusal to identify correspondence that she claims exists but does not? Fiona Cameron. That the office of the Ombudsman has no difficulty with Fiona Cameron investigating complaints made about Fiona Cameron astounds me. Or, should I say, it used to astound me. Nothing in the Emperor’s New Clothes world of transparency and accountability that we live in these days astounds me any more. Lies repeated often enough become truth and anyone with the temerity to call a spade a spade, to call a lie by its true name, is guilty of intimidation and harassment!

The correspondence that Fiona referred to in her letter of Nov 2010 either exists or it doesn’t exit. If it exists it can be produced. Fiona Cameron can point to it and say, “Mr Ricketson wrote such and such to so and so on such and such a date.”  The same applies for the correspondence that Ruth Harley claims has intimidated, harassed or placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. If it exists it can be produced. Ruth Harley can point to it and say, “Mr Ricketson wrote such and such to so and so on such and such a date.” The existence or non-existence of correspondence cannot be simply dismissed as “disputed versions of events between agency officers and complainants.” Correspondence, be it a letter or an email, is not a ‘disputed version’. It is a fact. The correspondence either exists or it does not. And if it exists it either backs up Harley and Cameron’s claims or it does not.

That there is no-one within Screen Australia or the Ministry for the Arts prepared to ask Harley and Cameron to produce the correspondence and given that the office of the Ombudsman does not see asking them to do so as its role, I have been left with no alternative but to try another route:

The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP
1238-1246 Pittwater Road
Narrabeen, NSW, 2101                                                                                              1st  June 2012
Dear Minister

As my elected representative I wonder if you may be able to offer me some advice. I am a filmmaker who lives in your electorate.

Three weeks ago, on 10th May, Ruth Harley, Chief Executive of Screen Australia, sent me a letter informing me not only that I have been banned from making any applications to the organization but that I may not communicate with members of her staff in any way. The reason Ms Harley has provided is that I have harassed, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff through my correspondence. I have asked Ms Harley to identify the correspondence she is referring to or extracts from it that bear witness to the crimes for which I have been charged and found guilty by her. Ms Harley refuses to do so. She refuses to communicate with me in any way regarding this matter. My entreaties to the Hon Simon Crean and the Prime Minister Julia Gillard to ask Ms Harley to release the offending correspondence have gone unacknowledged. The enclosed letters to Mr Crean and Ms Gillard speak for themselves.

Being banned by Screen Australia is the culmination of my having, this past few years, asked of the organization many questions that it refuses to answer. The most relevant and perhaps the most significant to anyone other than myself is revealed in the opening paragraphs of the letter I wrote to the Prime Minister on 27th Feb; a letter whose receipt has not been acknowledged:

“It is more than a little absurd that it should be necessary to write to the Prime Minister of Australia to ask a simple question for which there is a not only a simple answer but an obvious one:

Is it appropriate that complaints made about the Chief Operating Officer of a federal government body that invests around $60 million a year in Australian film and television are investigated by the Chief Operating Officer herself?”

The Chief Operating Officer, Ms Fiona Cameron has also referred, in a letter dated 12th Nov 2010, to correspondence I have supposedly sent to Screen Australia and which I claim does not exist. Ms Cameron has refused, despite many requests this past 18 months, to identity the correspondence she refers to. My complaint to Ms Harley about Ms Cameron’s refusal to identify the correspondence was handed to Ms Cameron to deal with. Ms Cameron’s way of dealing with the complaint made about herself was to tell me that she would communicate with me no longer!

I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and discuss how best I may be able to get Ms Harley to provide evidence of my harassment, intimidation and placing her staff at risk and to get Ms Cameron to identify correspondence that I insist does not exist.

yours sincerely

James Ricketson