"I would first like to address your letter of 20 August 2012, in which you request three examples
from correspondence already provided to you in response to an earlier request for documents
under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) with relevant sentences, phrases or
words highlighted (to indicate where you have intimidated or placed Screen Australia staff at
risk). It is our view that this request goes beyond the scope of the FOI Act, and is not a valid
'Our view'! Mmmm...I wonder who 'our' refers to?
So, Ruth Harley is able to secure permission from the Screen Australia Board to ban me on the basis of correspondence in which I have intimidated and placed at risk members of her staff without revealing to either the Board or myself which correspondence she is referring to. When I ask Harley to provide me with copies of the correspondence (the evidence) she refuses to answer my question because, true to her word, she is not going to communicate with me about the decision she has made and had ratified by the Board. I ask for copies of the correspondence through FOI and am sent copies of pretty well every letter and email I have sent to Screen Australia this past three years. I read through the lot and can find not one sentence that even comes close to a dictionary definition of 'intimidation'. (INTIMIDATE: To discourage from acting by threats of violence...Overawe with fear to influence conduct.)
I make another FOI application, seeking specific examples of my having intimidated and placed at risk Screen Australia staff, only to be told that this "is not a valid FOI request." I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. I feel like a character in a Kafka novel - accused, tried and convicted of a crime on the basis of evidence that I am not allowed to be privy to. And I am unable to appeal the decision of the prosecutor and judge (Ruth Harley) because (a) I don't know what crime I've committed and (b) Harley refuses to provide me with evidence of my crime, which she can do with impunity, because she has announced that she will not communicate with me further on this matter. This is the woman who runs our peak film funding body! And we have a Board that allows Harley to behave in this manner!
The Kafkaesque nature of this drama looks set to become more....Kafkaesque, Alice in Wonderland, Monty Pythion...when Screen Australia's lawyers (or so it seems at this juncture) seek to use the Supreme Court next Wednesday to prevent me from publishing my 'intimidating correspondence' online when I acquire it through discovery. It is hard to imagine that the Court would go along with such a ploy but stranger things have happened in the Supreme Court!
Getting back to the correspondence I am supposed to have written in which I made it clear that I believed my 'Chanti's World' development application had been 'greenlit'. In Nick Coyle's own words:
"Scope of Request
From your letter of 9 August 2012, you have requested correspondence referred to by
Fiona Cameron in her letter to you of 10 November 2010. Specifically, you are seeking
the correspondence referred to in the following paragraph:
'Unfortunately it appears from your correspondence that you came away from that
meeting with an understanding that your applications for further funding for Chanti’s
World had been effectively green lit. This is not the case. Nor could it be.'
My decision in this matter is to release the documents that relate to your request referred
to in 2 above."
I have never received one cent in funding from Screen Australia (or the AFC) for 'Chanti's World' so the word 'further' is misleading but this is a small point.
Level 4,150 Wiliam St.
re CHANTI’S WORLD
As you will recall, it was agreed at the end of our meeting on 25th. August (yourself, Julia Overton
and myself) that the best way forward with my two Cambodian documentaries was for me to apply
to Screen Australia for development money for CHANTI’S WORLD and to the Special
Documentary Program with TRANSPARENCY. There was no suggestion at all in this meeting that
my having been filming CHANTI’S WORLD for 15 years rendered my request for development
funds inappropriate. Nor was it ever put to me by anyone from Screen Australia over the following 7
weeks that 15 years of self-funding rendered my development request inappropriate. Only two days
ago, close to two months after our meeting, did Julia see fit to let me know that my request was
inappropriate. I have asked Julia in what way my request for development funds was inappropriate
but have, this past 48 hours, received no response. I would have thought that my commitment to this
project (in terms of both time and money) would be applauded and not render my application
invalid! Could you please explain to me what Screen Australia’s logic is here?
The reason why you and Julia and I met in the first place was that I had complained to you about
Julia’s refusal to respond in any way to 10 letters I had sent to her between May and August this
year. Amongst other things these letters touched on reasons why Screen Australia might see fit not
to invest in either CHANTI’S WORLD or TRANSPARENCY. I need not reiterate here the content
of these 10 letters.
Preferring to move forward rather than to be mired in a pointless conflict with Julia about her refusal
to respond to my letters I accepted in good faith the suggestion you made vis a vis applying to Screen
Australia with a request for funds to further develop CHANTI’S WORLD. I would much prefer not
to have but financial circumstances made it necessary – 15 years of self-funding having taken a
disastrous toll on my bank account.
I need not add much to what I wrote yesterday (the contents of my email to Julia appended to this
letter) but there are a few points I would like to draw your attention to:
Despite the high ratings achieved by SLEEPING WITH CAMBODIA the ABC has declared (many
times now) that CHANTI’S WORLD would not be of interest to an ABC audience. I believe that
Stuart Menzies is mistaken in this. Stuart also sees the non-involvement of Citipointe church as an
impediment to my being able to tell a balanced story. Having spent two years trying in every way
imaginable to involve Citipointe, Stuart’s assertion here has disastrous implications for the art and
craft of documentary filmmaking. If, however, Screen Australia has formed the view, with my
development application, that it agrees with Stuart, I would (with great reluctance) accept this as a
reason not to provide me with development funds. However, this has not been presented to me as a
reason. If Screen Australia is in agreement with Stuart, now is the time to declare it.
Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that Stuart (who has not even seen any footage shot this past few
years) is right - that an ABC audience would not be interested in CHANTI’S WORLD. Yes, in
accordance with Screen Australia guidelines, this is a good reason to knock CHANTI’S WORLD
back – though to do so would make it seem that Screen Australia’s sole function (with the exception
of the Special Documentary Program) is to act as a funding arm for the ABC (and SBS). If the lack
of a pre-sale for CHANTI’S WORLD is the reason why Screen Australia has knocked back my
development request, please say so and not hide behind the vague concept of ‘appropriateness’. It is
the meaning of this word, in the context of CHANTI’S WORLD, that I am having huge difficulty
with. It can mean anything or nothing!
Thinking of CHANTI’S WORLD purely and simply from an investment point of view, what are the
chances that the documentary could fail and that Screen Australia would lose any money it invested
in its development? To date 100% of the financial risk producing CHANTI’S WORLD has been
borne by myself. Screen Australia has not risked one cent. SLEEPING WITH CAMBODIA sold all
around the world and recouped it’s modest budget. I have no doubt that all the territories that bought
SLEEPING will buy CHANTI’S WORLD – and others that didn’t. I believe there to be absolutely
no doubt but that Screen Australia would get 100% of its development investment in CHANTI’S
WORLD back; that there is no financial risk involved for Screen Australia in investing in the film.
There is one last point that I wish to make. In mid-2009 you, Claire Jaeger and I discussed my earlier
application for development funds with CHANTI’S WORLD. Liz Crosby sat in on the meeting.
Claire was not sure if she had seen my ‘promo’ for CHANTI’S WORLD. It became abundantly clear
from comments that she made that she had not. Claire had, however, seen a DVD of stills from
someone other applicant’s project that confused her – with good reason, since I had submitted no
DVD with stills on it. On 25th. August, Ross, you admitted that you too had not seen my original 7
minute ‘promo’ for CHANTI’S WORLD.
You can have no idea how distressing it is to have a project assessed by Screen Australia personnel
who don’t even look at a promo covering 15 years in the life of the documentary’s central character.
It should not be allowed to happen. It should not have happened but given that it did I believe it
would have been appropriate for Screen Australia to apologize for such a mistake.
In my email to Julia yesterday (copied to you) I sought answers to some questions –most
particularly in relation to the word ‘appropriate’. I have received no response at all. Julia has now
had ample opportunity this past two days to, at the very least, get on the phone and explain to me that
there has been a misunderstanding, that she chose her words badly, that the decision regarding my
ineligibility had not been made by her etc. She has not availed herself of this opportunity.
Julia’s silence and her refusal to respond to my 10 letters leaves me with no choice but to make a
formal complaint to you about the way in which my development funding application for
CHANTI’S WORLD has been dealt with by Julia. Please accept this letter as my formal complaint.
Email to Julia Overton dated 14th. Oct. 2010
You sent me an email yesterday in which you wrote, by way of explanation as to why my
CHANTI’S WORLD development funding application had been knocked back: “As you have been
filming since 1995 a request for development funds was not considered appropriate.” I wrote back to
ask in what way it was not appropriate. You did not answer my question but said that you would see
if I could, as I had requested, be given a copy of the Reader’s Reports for CHANTI’S WORLD.
This will not be necessary as I have applied, using FOI legislation, to obtain copies of Readers
Reports for this project.
How soon after my 7th. Sept. development application to Screen Australia with CHANTI’S
WORLD did it become apparent to you that my request was not ‘appropriate’? Why did you not alert
me to this immediately? Why did you not let me know, at the time, in what way you considered my
request inappropriate and give me a chance to respond to this assertion?
Was the inappriateness of my funding request apparent to you on 30th. Sept when we had a brief
email exchange regarding the Special Documentary Program? If so, why did you not inform me at
the time? Why did you wait until yesterday?
A bit of backstory is in order here. Over a period of ten weeks, between 21st. May and 12th.August
you ignored 10 letters from me. You did not have the professional courtesy to even acknowledge
receipt of them. You did not respond to my several requests that I be able to meet and talk with you
about my two Cambodian documentary projects – CHANTI’S WORLD and TRANSPARENCY.
My questions and my desire to talk with you related to my (then tentative) plans to apply to Screen
Australia for funds to further develop one or both of these documentary projects. I did not wish to
waste my time (or money I did not have) preparing an application without answers to my questions.
These you resolutely refused to provide.
In frustration I wrote twice to Ross Mathews in hopes that he might intervene and induce you to
answer my questions. Ross suggested that he and I meet to discuss my letters to him. I suggested that
you be present for the meeting also because I wished for a speedy and amicable resolution to the
In this meeting Ross acknowledged that it was not inappropriate for me to expect you to
acknowledge receipt of my letters. You even said something in the meeting at this moment about
writing me a letter of apology for not having done so. You didn’t write such a letter but this was
unimportant at the time, really. What was important, and pertinent, was that Ross suggested (given
that I had never received Screen Australia funding for the project) that I apply for development
funding for CHANTI’S WORLD and to the Special Documentary Program with
TRANSPARENCY. If this is not your recollection of our conversation please say so now because
much hinges on it.
I came away from the meeting feeling that more had been achieved in 15 minutes of conversation
with Ross than in months trying to communicate with you. I acted on Ross’s suggestion in good faith
- renting an edit suite (I have neither a camera or editing facilities at this time) to prepare the audio-
visual part of my application – submitted to Screen Australia on 7th. Sept. As will be apparent from
the DVDs Isubmitted n support of CHANTI'S WORLD this involved an enormous amount of work.
And it also cost me around $2000. Or, should I say, it resulted in my going $2,000 deeper into debt.
It was to avoid this possibility that I wished to get answers to my many questions before committing
myself to the rental of an edit suite. If I had been told in the meeting with Ross on 25th.August that a
funding request from me for CHANTI’S WORLD was not appropriate I would not have gone ahead
and rented an edit suite!
More than a month later you tell me that my request for development funds was not appropriate but
you will not tell me why it is inappropriate! I am, needless to say, curious to know how and why my
request was appropriate on 25th. August but became inappropriate by 13th. Oct? When, during the
intervening seven weeks, did my request’s inappropriateness become apparent?
Julia, in our email exchange at the end of Sept. you made it quite clear that you were the Investment
Manager responsible for CHANTI’S WORLD and I presume (please correct me if I am wrong) that
the buck stops with the Manager or, to put it another way, that it is YOU who have decided,
regardless of Ross’ suggestion and the agreement implicit in our meeting, that my CHANTI’S
WORLD funding request was not appropriate. If my logic is correct here please explain to me, in
writing, why it is not appropriate given that I have self-funded this project for 15 years and received
not on cent of development money during this time from any funding body?
If the decision to render CHANTI’S WORLD inappropriate was not yours but made by a committee
please explain to me what the committee’s reasoning was here? Why is it at odds with what Ross had
suggested to me – in you presence?
After my first eight or so letters to you about CHANTI’S WORLD and TRANSPARENCY I made
the beginnings of a complaint to the Ombudsman about your refusal to even acknowledge receipt of
them. I was assured by the Ombudsman’s Office that you were obliged to respond to my letters; that
the Ombudsman took such matters seriously and that I had grounds to make a formal complaint. I
was given a date of 3rd.Sept. to make such a complaint if I so wished. This was the last thing I
wanted to do and it seemed, as a result of yours, mine and Ross’s meeting on 25th. August that it
would not be necessary. I did not pursue it.
It is clear to me, from your repeated refusal to respond to correspondence, your refusal to meet with
me to discuss CHANTI’S WORLD and TRANSPARENCY and now what appears to be your
betrayal of the letter and spirit of our conversation with Ross on 25th. August, just what your attitude
towards me as a filmmaker is. There is nothing that I can do about this, though I suggest that you
either declare your Conflict of Interest in dealing with me or provide answers to my questions.
In the interests of transparency, accountability just plain old common professional courtesy, could
you please respond to my 10 letters; answer the questions I asked in them.
I am copying this email to the Ombudsman’s office so that it can go on file as evidence of yet
another attempt on my part to resolve this matter without making a formal complaint about what I
consider to be a lack of appropriate professionalism in your dealings with me in relation to
CHANTI’S WORLD. If I do not receive appropriate answers to my questions I will make a formal
complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office. I am most reluctant to do so but I can endure your shoddy
treatment of me no longer!
316 Whale Beach Road
Palm Beach 2108
Level 4,150 Wiliam St.
It is now two weeks since I first alerted you to the problem I was experiencing with my Sept.
CHANTI’S WORLD application. I have written you four letters regarding it. I have no doubt that
you are a busy man, with many pressing matters to attend to, but surely you could find a few minutes
to send me a brief email to at lest acknowledge that you were looking into the matter!
Six days ago Liz Crosby wrote to me, presumably on your instructions, “Governance Manager Nick
Coyle has advised that your application under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, to access
documents relating to the decision not to support the development application for Chanti's World, is
proceeding, and that you should receive the documents shortly.” ‘Shortly’ is, of course, one of those
words that can mean ‘in the next few days’ or ‘the next few months’. It could also, in this instance,
mean “Let’s hold James at bay for as long as possible; give ourselves time to figure out how we can
deny him access to Claire Jaeger’s Report whilst making it seem that this is a perfectly reasonably
thing to do.” Conjecture on my part, of course, but in the absence of access to Claire’s Report and
with the days turning into weeks and the list of unanswered questions lengthening, conjecture is
Claire’s Report is, it seems, the key document as far as the appropriateness and disingenuousness of
my application is concerned. I qualify this statement with ‘it seems’ because I do not have access to
much of the information upon which an informed judgement could be made. You do have access to
this material, Ross. No doubt, by now, you will have read Claire’s Report. It will, broadly speaking,
either answer the questions relating to the appropriateness and/or disingenuousness of my application
or it will not. If Claire’s Report does provide a halfway cogent argument for inappropriateness and/or
disingenuousness, it seems to me that you would have forwarded it to me by now to make it quite
clear that my complaint of two weeks ago is without merit. That you have not forwarded it (or
allowed Nick Coyle to forward it) suggests that Claire’s Report does not support the
appropriateness/disingenuous argument well. Or perhaps at all. It is possible, of course, that there is
no Claire Jaeger Report!
The answers to all the questions in this and my previous 4 letters (both explicit and implicit) are
relevant to my complaint and it seems that Screen Australia has decided to make it as hard as
possible, notwithstanding FOI, for me to get information regarding my CHANTI’S WORLD
My email to Nick Coyle yesterday speaks for itself. That Nick has not responded to it could, of
course, mean any one of a number of different things.
28th. Oct. 2010
It is now 2 weeks since I made my original request to obtain Readers Reports written
in relation to my Sept. CHANTI’S WORLD development application. Whilst I have
not received copies of any Reports it does seem, from the Signed_RecPaper sent to me
by Liz Crosby last Friday, that Screen Australia has no intention of blocking my FOI
request. Why then can I not have a copy of the Reports (or Report, if there is only one)
to which this Signed_RecPaper presumably refers? The Report(s) are important for the
Julia Overton’s email of two weeks ago informed me that my development application
was ‘not appropriate’. Since neither she nor anyone else at Screen Australia will tell me
in what way my application was not appropriate I am hoping that some clue may be
found in one or more of these Reports. The same applies with my purported
‘disingenuousness’. Perhaps these Reports explain in what way my application was
disingenuous – a motive that should not be lightly imputed to any filmmaker. Indeed, I
think it to be a form of professional defamation unless it is backed up with reasons that
warrant its use.
I know, because Julia Overton informed me, that there is at least one Report for
CHANTI’SWORLD – written by Claire Jaeger. Perhaps, if there are no other Reports,
Claire is the author of one or both of the epithets that have been applied to my
application – ‘not appropriate’ and ‘disingenuous’? If so I trust, in the interests of
accountability, that Claire has provided some explanation for her use of these words.
The same applies for the other Reports – if there are any.
If Claire’s Report (or any others that might exist) provides no explanation for the
appropriateness or disingenuousness of my development application, why have these
words been presented to me (and placed on file) as reasons to render my application
null and void?
It may be (though I won’t know until I read it) that Claire’s Report is fair and well-
argued and that the words ‘appropriate’ and ‘disingenuous’, in context, do not carry the
pejorative weight they do when removed from that context. Given that Claire’s Report
in June 2009 was factually incorrect in so many ways and written when she had not
seen a key DVD, the factual accuracy of Claire’s current Report is something that I
would like to be assured of. My professional integrity is very important to me and to
suggest that my application was ‘insincere’, ‘having secret motives’ or ‘not candid’ is a
serious charge if not backed up with facts. If it is indeed Claire who has put in writing
that my application was ‘disingenuous’ and she has not backed this word up with
evidence to support it, her Report should be discounted – just as her June 2009 Report
should have been discounted.
I am sure, Nick, that you are doing all you can to expedite my FOI request. However,
given that the one document provided to me to date was sent via Ross Mathews’ office,
it may be that there are others involved in my FOI request who are not similarly
committed to a hasty resolution of this matter. I am, as a consequence, copying this to
the Ombudsman in hopes that this may help speed things up a little.
If my recent CHANTI’S WORLD development application has been dealt with appropriately by
Documentaries, Ross, I fail to understand why it is not possible for me, through FOI legislation, to
obtain a copy of Claire Jaeger’s Reader’s Report? Given that it is not (it seems) possible could you
please, in the interests of transparency and accountability, just send it to me anyway? Or, if you do
not wish to do so, explain why?
With the appropriate qualification (given my lack of access to certain information) it seems as
though Julia Overton has taken it upon herself to decide that my application was ‘disingenuous’.
Julia understood that her choice of this word to describe a filmmaker’s application, suggestive as it
is of dishonesty, was like a red rag to a bull so she decided to substitute the words ‘not
appropriate’. It was a poor choice of words given what transpired in our meeting of 25th. August -
in which, by recommending that I apply for development money for CHANTI’S WORLD, you
gave my subsequent application the imprimatur of ‘appropriateness’. Or did you? By remaining
silent for the past two weeks on this point you have avoided acknowledging that this conversation
took place. Your reason for doing so, perhaps (I have no choice but to conjecture) is that an
admission that it did take place would necessitate that Julia Overton was wrong in her saying that
my application was ‘not appropriate’ and hence her reason for knocking my application back based
on a false premise. In reality, it seems that Julia believes my application to be disingenuous and
‘appropriateness’ was never an issue. ‘If only James hadn’t starting asking questions and applying
for documents through FOI!’, Julia may well be asking now. If I had not asked questions and been
quite insistent in June last year I would never have received a copy of Claire’s Report and learnt
how factually incorrect her original assessment of CHANTI’S WORLD was; would never have
discovered that she hadn’t seen my promo.
I am copying this to Glen Boreham, Chair of the Screen Australia Board (as well as the
Ombudsman’s office), because I believe that the Board should be aware of what actually takes
place within the organization when a filmmaker has the temerity to question the appropriateness of
the conduct of Screen Australia staff members. My experience (and that of all the filmmakers I
know who have bothered to make complaints about their treatment at the hands of Screen
Australia) is that there is no functioning complaints mechanism within the organization. And it
seems (please note my qualification) that the one avenue whereby a filmmaker might obtain
documents relevant to his or her complaint is itself compromised by internal interference with the
FOI officer’s job. This is the only explanation I can come up with for why my request for Reports
to Nick Coyle two weeks ago has, to date, resulted in only one slim document that cannot, by any
stretch of the imagination, be considered a ‘report’.
cc Glen Boreham and members of the Screen Australia Board.
Professor John McMillan, Commonwealth Ombudsman.