Wednesday, September 12, 2012

for Ruth Harley....yet another letter!

Ruth Harley
Chief Executive
Screen Australia
Level 4
150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                                   13th Sept. 2012

Dear Ruth

On 9th May you circulated to members of the Screen Australia Board a draft letter in which you claimed that I had intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence. In so doing not only did you knowingly and deliberately lie to the Board but you defamed me.

The following day, with the blessing of the Screen Australia Board, you banned me from having any further dealings with Screen Australia. In so doing you were aware, as was the Board that ratified your decision, that being banned by Screen Australia places a huge obstacle in the path of a filmmaker. Such a ban effectively destroys a filmmaker’s career as he or she is dependent on Screen Australia through the ‘Producer’s Offset’.

It is hard to imagine, from the perspective of a non-lawyer such as myself, a clearer example of defamation and its impact on the person so defamed.

On 11th May I asked you to provide evidence in support of your allegation that I had harassed, intimidated and placed members of your staff at risk with my correspondence. You refused to do so. You have refused all subsequent requests to release the correspondence or to identify when it was sent and in what manner – email or letter. You have refused my Freedom of Information request to be provided with copies of the allegedly intimidating correspondence – getting your FOI officer to provide me, instead, with copies of most of the correspondence I have sent to Screen Australia this past three years in relation to fifteen or so different submissions I have made. This cynical exercise is a breach of the spirit of FOI legislation – just a ploy you employ to keep secret the fact that correspondence of the kind you describe does not exist. You have also refused my suggestion that the dispute between myself and Screen Australia be placed in the hands of a Conciliator who would look at the correspondence and make an independent judgment of it.

It is in the context of ‘intimidating correspondence’ that my Statement of Claim in the Supreme Court of NSW must be understood. Obtaining copies of this correspondence is the only way that I can prove my innocence of the offense that has led to my being banned. Had I received copies of the correspondence at any time after lodging my Statement of Claim and had I received, as I have requested many times, an apology for having been banned on the basis of a lie, I would have dropped my Statement of Claim as your defamatory allegations would have been revealed for what they were (lies) and my reputation amongst Screen Australia Board colleagues restored. However, given that no apology has been forthcoming and given that you refuse to reveal the evidence upon which you have banned me and, in the process, defamed me, I will proceed with my action.

Your legal counsel has made it clear in his own Statement of Claim, made on your behalf, that he will ask the Court to strike out my Statement of Claim as frivolous. The logic of his argument boils down to this:

Mr Ricketson is only using the Supreme Court to obtain copies of the letters he believes will prove his innocence of the charges of intimidation and placing at risk members of Screen Australia staff. It is not the Supreme Court’s role, in a Common Law (defamation) matter such as this to provide Mr Ricketson with correspondence, so not only should his Statement of Claim be struck out but Mr Ricketson should also pay Screen Australia’s legal costs.

This paraphrasing may leave out some legal subtleties but it is an accurate description of the legal tactic you are employing as Chief Executive to prevent me from obtaining copies of the allegedly intimidating correspondence. And it may work! Not because you have not defamed me but because, when all is said and done, I have not (as a non-lawyer) articulated my Statement of Claim with the clarity I would have if I were a lawyer.

I will argue in court that my persistent attempts to acquire copies of the relevant correspondence (and hence save the time and energy of the Supreme Court) is not in conflict with my desire to have my name cleared of the defamatory charges laid against me. I will continue to advocate for a Conciliator to be brought in also to adjudicate this dispute. If this were to occur in the next week or so it would be unnecessary to proceed to the Supreme Court as a Conciliator could, in the course of a week, read the relevant correspondence and make a determination that both Screen Australia and I would be obliged to abide by. He or she would decide that my being banned was appropriate or not based on the correspondence itself and not merely on your allegation that it exists.

If the Court does not accede to your counsel’s request to have my Statement of Claim stuck out, if the matter proceeds, Screen Australia will be obliged to defend its actions by producing the allegedly intimidating correspondence. This will prove to be very embarrassing to you (to say the least!) since there is not one letter, not one email, not one paragraph, sentence or even a phrase in what I have written that is intimidating or which places any member of your staff at risk. You know this, as does the Screen Australia Board. This is why you will do whatever you feel you have to do to prevent any independent party from reading the correspondence – hence the Statement of Claim you lodged in the Supreme Court yesterday.

Just as you will do whatever you need to do to prevent anyone from ever seeing the relevant correspondence, so too will I do everything I can to see that is released or identified so that members of the Screen Australia Board and my fellow filmmakers can decide for themselves who is playing fast and loose with the truth – you or me.

best wishes

James Ricketson


  1. Cripes! This is still going on! The Neverending Story! Not sure who I admire most in this battle of the wills - Ricketson for his perseverence or Harley for her sheer cussedness in refusing to answer any questions!

  2. Come on, Ruth, release Ricetson's nasty letters and emails and put us all out of our misery. We're all dying to know who is going to be riding off into the sunset and whose bloodied corpse is going to be left on the main street!

  3. Give up Ricketson. You've lost the battle and you are just wasting your time and energy. And soon you'll lose whatever money you hae in the Sirpeme court to achieve fuck all. Harley is never going to let anyone see the correspondence but more important no-one is going to ask her to hand it over - not Simon Crean, not the Screen Australia Board, not the Ombudsman. I believe that you have not written the correspondence (I hope you dont disappoint) but the fact that you havent is the very reason why Harley will continue to stonewall and the others will back her right to do so. This is the way power works. You should know this by now. Stop bashing your head against the wall.

    1. Dear Anonymous

      Yes, maybe I've lost the battle. On the other hand, maybe I haven't. The fat lady hasn't sung yet and there has been a little progress this past 24 hours. I am now aware of just how it is that Screen Australia defines the verb 'to intimidate' - a subject about which I will write when time prevails.

  4. Harley was a mistake. A big mistake. Lets hope her replacement is not a member of the cosy film bureaucrat club that we all know and love so much. Time for a change.

  5. None of any of this surprises me. Had some dealings with Harley in the land of the great white cloud. We couldn't believe our luck (and Australia's bad luck) when Harley was exported to your sunny shores. She will stick to her guns. When Ruth says she's not going to read any letters or answer any questions she means it. And its obvious that no one is going to force her to because there are too many people now who will look fucking ridiculous when (or maybe it's if) it turns out that there's no intimidating letters from Ricketson. Is there a film funding body anywhere in the world that wants an experienced bureaucrat? Please don't send her back here!

    1. Inadvertently, Screen Australia has provided me with a clue as to what it means by 'intimidating'. It turns out that in Screen Australia-speak, the verb 'to intimidate' is synonymous with the verb 'to distress'. If an email or letter causes 'distress' to a member of Screen Australia staff s/he can claim to feeling 'intimidated'. Given that iI was distressed upon reading Ruth Harley's letter of 10th May (banning me) can I also claim that Ruth Harley was 'intimidating' me? This is a subject to which I will turn my pen (metaphorically speaking) when time prevails.

  6. The truth can be very distressing - especially to bureaucrats unused to speaking it!

    1. Speaking truth to power is not good idea, as Ricketson is discovering. Good on him for doing it but he's a fool also for thinking he might win in the end.

    2. Less ‘speaking truth’ than asking questions in pursuit of ‘the truth’. There is nothing that a bureaucrat hates more than a question for which only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is required. It’s hard to spin ‘yes’ or ‘no’, Best to declare ‘I’m not going to talk to you anymore’ and, when you do attempt to talk with them more, by asking the same questions again, they can claim that they ‘feel distressed’ which, in the Looking Glass world of Screen Australia, is equivalent to ‘feeling intimidated’.

  7. That the existence or non-existence of correspondence that may or may not be intimidating is to be decided in the Supreme Court is nonsense of the first order. Regardless of whether Ricketson has done anything wrong or not this dispute stands as a testament to the incompetence of Ruth Harley, the Screen Australia Board and our minister, Simon Crean - none of whom, it seems, have made any attempt to resolve it.