Sunday, October 21, 2012

Another letter for the Screen Australia Board

Members of the Screen Australia Board
Screen Australia
Level 4, 150 William St
Wooloomooloo 2011  22nd. Oct. 2012

Dear Board Members

You will be aware of the letters I have sent to fellow board member Rachel Perkins this past few months in which I have attempted to secure a just resolution to my dispute with Screen Australia based on verifiable facts. Rachel has responded to none of my letters. Perhaps it is inappropriate that she do so given that she is only one member of a board. However, it is more than four months since Rachel informed me that she understood my concerns and would look into them and I am working on the presumption that she must have raised her concerns at a Screen Australia board meeting held between 10th May and 22nd Oct. 

The 19th Oct deadline has passed for me to apply for post-production funding for CHANTI’S WORLD based on a pre-sale from an international broadcaster. I have been unable to make the application I have been planning (and working towards) for months because, five months after the ban imposed by Ruth Harley and ratified by yourselves, it seems that you are still of the opinion that I have intimidated and placed members of Screen Australia staff at risk. My plea for evidence continues to fall on members of the board’s deaf ears.

The questions the board needs to ask are, it seems to me, clear. Here’s one:

- Why was Ruth prepared to spend five months and God-knows how much money in the Supreme Court (four legal representatives!) trying to prevent me from acquiring marked up copies of my correspondence?  

If Screen Australia were committed to transparency and accountability I would have been provided with evidence of my crimes BEFORE being tried and found guilty by yourselves. I would have been given an opportunity to defend myself – as I have been doing in my letters to Rachel Perkins in the five months since Ruth’s fatwa was handed down.  

- Was the money spent by Screen Australia in the Supreme Court money well spent? How much was it? Barristers don’t come cheap! Is the film community entitled to know or is this classified information?

My refusal to leave the Screen Australia offices last week without marked up copies of my ‘intimidating correspondence’ (the reason given for your banning of me) did have the desired effect. Ruth Harley descended into the foyer to hand a sheath of papers to me. My response to the marked up ‘intimidating’ passages has been dealt with elsewhere and is to be found (along with a complete history of this dispute) on my blog.

- Given that I have been asking for this correspondence for five months do you, members of the board, think it appropriate that I should have to use 1960s protest tactics to acquire them? 

As for Ruth getting the Security Manager to call the police to have me arrested in the foyer of Screen Australia at 4pm, as I was reading through the marked up correspondence:

- What do you make of my being arrested? A considered and necessary management decision or overkill?
I contend that there is no evidence in the marked up correspondence Ruth provided me with last week that backs up her assertion that I have intimidated or placed at risk members of her staff. Have you received your own copies or do you simply take Ruth's word for it that the marked up passages bear witness to Ruth's allegations?

Or has Ruth decided, in Humpty Dumpty fashion, to re-define the word ‘intimidation’ and the phrase ‘at risk’ in such a way as to make even a letter such as this one qualify as intimidating and placing you, dear Board Members, at risk!  Fiona Cameron or Liz Crosby might respond with, “But I feel intimidated, I feel at risk. James’ correspondence distresses me” Yes, but are the subjective feelings of senior personnel at Screen Australia the benchmark by which this word (‘intimidate’) and this phrase (‘at risk) are judged? 
- Do you, dear Board Members, share Fiona and Ruth’s definition of the word ‘intimidate’ and the phrase ‘at risk’? Do you agree that causing distress to a Screen Australia employee with a letter or an email is an offence worthy of ban being placed on the correspondent?

This is not a rhetorical question.

I am clearly a biased observer but it seems to me that what I am guilty of is (a) Distressing Liz Crosby by continuing to ask her the same question over a period of 18 months and, in the process, making some observations about her character as a result of her refusal to answer it and (b) calling Fiona Cameron a liar.

Accusing anyone of being a liar is not a nice thing to say about anyone but if anyone within the Screen Australia hierarchy (including the board) were to look at the facts they would discover that what I write is not defamatory but simply a statement of demonstrable fact. I did not write the ‘greenlit’ correspondence Fiona claimed I had. Trivial lies, agreed, but lies nonetheless that have led us to the point where we are now – daggers drawn and with myself unable to take advantage of a pre-sale offered to me by a major international broadcaster. And all because I have insisted upon my right to have my original complaint adjudicated on the basis of facts and not spin – preferably by an independent conciliator/mediator. The purpose of mediators and conciliators is to prevent disputes such as this blowing out of all proportion.

- Why, dear Board Members, is Ruth so loathe to call in an independent conciliator/mediator if she believes (as surely she must) that she has right on her side? Right, facts, evidence?

One problem with Screen Australia is that facts are of no importance in the adjudication of disputes such as this one – reflecting a worrying lack of transparency and accountability within the organization. A filmmaker can be accused of placing SA staff at risk (the sort of behaviour that results in AVOs being taken out against offenders) and no one within the organization, including the board, is interested, it seems, in being provide with evidence of the offence.

I believe that the reason why Ruth Harley has gone to such extraordinary lengths to prevent me from acquiring marked copies of my ‘intimidating correspondence’, just as she spent 20 months trying to prevent me from acquiring copies of the ‘greenlit’ correspondence and just as, to this day, the relevant Screen Australia staff refuse to go on record re conversations had about the CHANTI’S WORLD promo, is that she fears (with some justification) that the moment my questions are addressed, answered and the truth revealed, the cover up for the cockup that has occurred here will be abundantly apparent and raise serious questions about her competence as Chief Executive. 

Another question: 

At what point in the application process can any filmmaker, with his or her correspondence, pose a risk to Screen Australia staff? 

These are the stages s/he must go through:

- S/he posts it to Screen Australia or drops it off in person. What risk is involved here? Has there every been an instance of a filmmaker (including myself), whilst dropping off an application, either intimidating or placing at risk a Screen Australia receptionist? 

- Once ‘in the system’ the filmmaker’s application is processed by various people. This includes the reading of accompanying correspondence. Has there ever been an instance in which an applicant in his or her application has included correspondence that has been intimidating or placed the reader of it at risk? I suspect not but, in the event that such an eventuality were to occur, isn’t this the point at which the relevant person from Screen Australia would write to the filmmaker, “Dear So and So, the correspondence you have included in your application is unacceptable to us for (state reasons) and we have decided to proceed no further with it.” 

Please bear with me here. I am trying to figure out at what point in the application process it is possible for a filmmaker (myself in this instance) to place a member of SA staff at risk.

- Once the assessment process has been completed (intimidating applicants already weeded out of the system) decisions are made within Screen Australia as to which projects will receive funding and which will not. The relevant letters of acceptance or rejection are sent out to filmmakers. It is at this point that intimidation could occur – the aggrieved rejected filmmaker, unhappy with the result, using intimidating tactics to try and get the decision reversed. This seems to be the category that I have been placed in my Screen Australia; the one that has been presented to you board members. But have you ever been presented with any evidence? Does the marked up ‘intimidating correspondence’ contain evidence that I have intimidated or placed anyone at risk? This is not a rhetorical question. It is one that the board needs to be clear about in its deliberations on 9th Nov.

If there is any evidence in support of the proposition that I have intimidated or placed anyone at risk in the process of trying to reverse a decision made by Screen Australia I would be the first to agree that I should be banned. But where is the evidence? There is none. I have never, in my entire film career, complained about not getting funding. If any evidence can be produced that suggests I have, Ruth Harley is in a position to present it to the board and, in the interests of transparency and accountability, provide me with copies also. What I have done, and this is the case here, is complain about the lack of due process. To be more precise I have complained that the decision to knock back ‘Chanti’s World’ in mid 2009 was made by two people who, by their own admission, did not view the ‘promo’ for the project. Just as Gavilro Princep’s killing of Archduke Ferdinand was the trigger for World War 1, so too was Claire Jager and Ross Mathews’ failure to view my ‘Chanti’s World’ promo the trigger for this dispute. It is no more possible to discuss the original cause of this dispute without reference to the  viewing or non-viewing of my ‘Chanti’s World’ promo than it is to discuss the causes of WW1 with no reference to Princep's killing of the Archduke. And yet this is precisely what has happened during the past two years of my asking of Claire, Julia, Ross and Liz to go on record with their recollections.

I contend that whilst Screen Australia knows all too well that my ‘promo’ was not viewed (and has done for three years now) it will not make any kind of public admission of this fact. To do so would reveal that I was right to make my complaint in the first place. Screen Australia will also not come out and say, “Ricketson is wrong, Of course Ross and Claire viewed his ‘CHANTI’S WORLD ‘promo’,” because this would be a lie that would, once exposed, reflect very badly on many people now. So, the best tactic is for Claire, Ross, Julia and Liz to remain silent. Simply refuse to answer the question and, when the filmmaker keeps asking it, use his persistent asking of the same question as evidence of harassment, intimidation and placing staff at risk!

If the Screen Australia board has any respect at all for facts and for making fair and just decisions based on facts, it must ask the relevant people if conversations were had, in Ricketson’s presence, in which it was admitted that Ross and Claire had not viewed the promo. If all four in a position to confirm or deny my version of events insist that I am wrong, then it is pretty clear that it is me who began this dispute and not Screen Australia. I have been asking Ross, Julia, Claire and Liz for close to two years now to go on record with this. They have all declined. If they continue to decline to go on record, even when asked by the board, you can each draw your own conclusions. If Ross, Julia, Claire and Liz do all go on record stating that the conversations I have referred to never occurred, you might at least admonish all four (along with Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron) for never, this past two years, having answered my oft-asked question and saving us all a lot of wasted time, effort and money.

If you can find no evidence that I have intimidated and placed members of Screen Australia’s staff at risk, please do consider an alternative explanation for the ban imposed by Ruth Harley and ratified by yourselves – namely, that by holding out the possibility that the ban on me might be lifted, Ruth Harley hoped, in her 10th May letter, to silence a vocal critic of her and the way in which Screen Australia is managed under her stewardship. If neither the ‘intimidation’ nor the ‘censorship’ explanations for what has occurred here appeal to the board I would love to know why it is that the board has seen fit to continue with its ban on me this past five months – during which time you have, I presume, met ore than once. 

Let’s be very clear here. In less than 24 hours the board ratified Ruth Harley’s ban on the grounds of intimidation and placing staff at risk. It is the board’s responsibility to be convinced, on the basis of evidence and not mere assertions by Ruth, that I am guilty as charged. And, if the Board feels that I am, I trust that it will present me with the reasons why it has concluded that I am guilty. Transparency and accountability necessitate the Board take responsibility for my being banned and not, as Ruth and Fiona did when they fobbed off the decision to have me arrested on Graham the Security manager, lob the decision back into Ruth’s court.

The real shame here is that the original cockup (Claire Jager and Ross Mathews failure to view a DVD) is one that could have been cleared up in fifteen minutes if there had been a will on the part of Ross, Fiona and Ruth to do so. The problem could have been rectified amicably and there would be no need for us to be where we are now with you members of the board having to make a decision on 9th Nov. to (a) ratify your original ban and bring my film career to an end, or (b) lift the ban, apologize for having imposed it in the first place and ask Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron to put in place a time-efficient complaints process that is fact-based and does not result in decisions made on the whim of a less-than-disinterested party.

best wishes

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. My bet James is that you will never ever get a response from the Screen Australia Board. It can't afford to lift the ban and have the members look like idiots for imposing it in the first place and it can't afford to look as though it is agreeing that the ban should remain in place. Bring on the spin doctors: "After careful consideration and much debate," Harley will write, "the board has formed the view that until such time as we are convinced that you pose no risk to members of Screen Australia staff...." etc. The board can sit this one out because it knows that you have no-one on your team, James, and that eventually you wil have no choice but to give up. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.