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.