Thursday, June 7, 2012

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?



1 comment:

  1. The editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald echoes what Ricketson writes here and elsewhere in his blog:

    A culture of accountability and transparency – and the presumption that, unless public welfare overwhelmingly demands it, secrecy and concealment serve the incompetent, the misguided or the dishonest – needs public endorsement as much as it does statutory authority. Without the former, the latter is of questionable value.

    It seems likely that Australians are thinking more about the consequences of secrecy and are more sceptical of excuses used to justify it. They’re less trusting because they reckon they’ve been burnt too often…Governments naturally see themselves as potential losers in loosening the muzzle. The way they see it, one can never be sure where an allegation might lead. The emphasis can led to what PR types like to call issues management – the massaging of reality to the point of public reassurance built on selective information. If people aren’t encouraged to pursue truth, how else will will abuse and dishonesty be exposed? The powerful always are tempted to pull down the blind.

    Screen Australia has ‘pulled down the blind’. That is the real underlying problem of which Ricketson’s banning is merely a symptom.