Thursday, October 18, 2012

As I prepare for a (possible) weekend in Long Bay!

This is my 100th blog entry since 10th May when Ruth Harley handed down her fatwa. Yes, obsessive, but then I’m not prepared to have my career essentially ended by Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board without fighting to the last.

As of this morning  I have received 11, 596 page hits so there are clearly a few fellow filmmakers out there interested in the outcome or, perhaps, in the inherent drama in this dispute. I hope, Dear Reader, if you belong to an an industry association or guild, that you think about the implications of what is going on here and how its outcome has ramifications for how all filmmakers relate to Screen Australia and hence for both the industry and culture of Australian film.

I would not suggest that even the most avid follower read this lengthy letter to the Ombudsman. It contains nothing new. I am publishing it more to place on record my latest attempt to find a just resolution to my dispute than I am in the expectation that it will be of interest to anyone other than those immediately involved in it. 

Ms Alison Larkins
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442, Canberra                                                                                                   19th Oct 2012

Dear Ms Larkins
I have written several letters to your Senior Investigator, Stephen Nowicki, this past few months regarding my being banned by Screen Australia. Other than being ‘concerned’ that Screen Australia refuses to accept any development or funding applications from me will Stephen’s ‘concerns’ translate into action of any kind on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman?

I have a few more questions for you and they are rather urgent given my arrest by the police earlier this week in the foyer of Screen Australia and my possible arrest later in today when I arrive there again to drop off another development application.  

I would prefer that my questions be considered in context so am here, quoting the bulk of a letter I sent to the then Ombudsman, Alan Asher, on 2nd March 2011. It concerns Elisa Harris’ decision not to ask one question of Claire Jager, Ross Mathews, Julia Overton or Liz Crosby before completing her investigation into my complaint. Elisa spoke only with Fiona Cameron, about whom I was making the most significant part of my complaint:

Elisa made it clear that she had no intention of asking even the most important question in this matter. “…to ask the question you pose was not considered relevant to the investigation,” Elisa wrote on 12th.Jan….

Imagine, in the case of any crime, if, in court, the person accused of the crime was never asked if he had committed it and was found ‘not guilty’ on the grounds that to ask the question was not considered relevant!   True, no crime has been committed here but there are sins of commission and sins of omission and it is arguable that Screen Australia’s collective decision not to answer any questions falls into the latter category.

How does Elisa justify not asking this question? If it had been asked, months ago, and if the answer had been (from Julia Overton, Ross Mathews and Liz Crosby) “We do not recollect it as James does. Our recollection, all three of us, is…” that would have been the end of the matter. Elisa, confronted by two different versions, would, quite understandably, have found it impossible to choose which was true and which was false. But to not even ask the question!

If the questions had been asked and if Ross, Julia and Liz all agreed that, yes, James’ version was true (as I feel sure they would, if asked) and if Elisa had felt inclined to ask a second question, it might be something like this: 

“Is it true that Claire Jaeger and Ross Mathews, in assessing James’ CHANTI’S WORLD proposal in mid 2009 (first submission), failed to view the 7 minute promo that was the centre point of his application?” 

If Elisa had bothered to ask these questions and if the answers had been as I have indicated here, might she have felt inclined to continue with her investigation, ask more questions (and there are plenty) and perhaps even speak with me and not just with Fiona?

My complaint has never been about money. It has never, despite Fiona’s protestations (not backed up by any facts) been about whether or not I received funding from Screen Australia for CHANTI’S WORLD or thought the project had been ‘greenlit’. (Evidence, please, Fiona!) It has been about principles – these being, broadly speaking, that Screen Australia personnel should abide by the organization’s own guidelines, that Fiona Cameron ought not to be allowed to place on file statements that are demonstrably untrue and that Screen Australia should have a complaints process that begins with facts and not with a foregone conclusion for which ‘facts’ are manufactured in order to justify it – Fiona’s letter to me of 12th Nov being a case in point.

In many letters and emails now I have consistently asked that this matter be adjudicated on the basis of facts and not spin. Many times I have invited all involved to refute the facts as I have presented them – an invitation refused by all. If the facts reveal that I have been playing fast and loose with the truth, why has no-one bothered to point this out to me? If the facts as I have presented them are nothing but a concoction of lies, why is it that Ross Mathews, Julia Overton and Liz Crosby have not come out and said so? In the face of Ross, Julia’s and Liz’s refutation any reasonable person would look at my complaint and say, “Well, here are three Screen Australia personnel present for the relevant conversations who insist that Mr Ricketson is wrong in his account of what has transpired and, unless all three are lying, Mr Ricketson seems to be the one who has got it all wrong.” In this instance the hypothetical reasonable person was Elisa Harris – who did not think it important to even ask Ross, Julia or Liz if my account was true or not!...

In not asking these questions, the Ombudsman’s office (is) basically…giving the green light to Screen Australia personnel, (in any future complaints that may be made about the organization) to behave as they like, sure in the knowledge that the Ombudsman will not ask the pertinent questions and the problem will simply disappear whilst the appearance of due process (complaint to Commonwealth Ombudsman) is maintained.

“If the Ombudsman is not going to even ask us pertinent questions,” Screen Australia staff could be forgiven for asking themselves “why on earth should we take any notice of any filmmaker who asks them?” Under the circumstances, silence is the best available option when questions are asked of Screen Australia staff and silence is what I have got, for close to five months now – silence sanctioned, to date at least, by the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

If the person who reviews Elisa Harris’ decision (should such a review prove necessary), does feel that the questions I have posed are worthy of answers and if the answers all point to it being me who has played fast and loose with the truth, I deserve whatever public pillorying comes my way. If the person conducting the review decides not to ask any of the questions above…I fail to see how your office can arrive at a decision based on facts as opposed to the kinds of suppositions Elisa based her decision on.

In the interests of transparency I am copying this letter to others involved (or with an interest) in this dispute. If any one of them can point out to you where, in this letter (or indeed in any of my correspondence) I have been parsimonious with the truth, you will have good grounds for taking all that I write with a grain of salt. If not one of those copied on this letter contradicts anything I write here (or have written) perhaps it is because I have been truthful in my account of what has occurred. And if what I write is true, how can your office arrive at any other conclusion than that, at the very least, both my CHANTI’S WORLD application and I, myself, have been treated in an off-hand and careless manner -  members of Screen Australia staff having breached Screen Australia guidelines whilst more senior members of that staff have sought to cover this up with a combination of spin and silence?

In copying this to others involved I am also offering them (collectively or individually) the opportunity to answer the questions I have been asking this past five months and which your office has, to date, refused to ask. If, at this late stage, Screen Australia should choose to answer my questions it may well be that there is no need for me to request a review of Elisa Harris’s 8th March decision.

In the event that this letter does not result in Screen Australia answering the questions I have posed so many times, please accept this letter as my formal request for a review of the Elisa Harris’ decision to terminate her investigation – made in the hope that whoever conducts it will ask the questions that Ms Harris did not believe to be relevant.

best wishes

James Ricketson
cc Glen Boreham and members of the Screen Australia Board
Ruth Harley, Fiona Cameron, Ross Mathews, Julia Overton, Claire Jaeger and Liz Crosby

I received no response from Mr Asher to this letter. I did, however, have two conversations on the telephone with Rohan Anderson, who was given the task of reviewing Elisa Harris’ decision to dismiss my complaint. In the first of these Rohan informed me that he would ask questions of Julia Overton, Ross Mathews or Liz Crosby to see if they agreed or not with my version of events. In the second conversation, Rohan confirmed that he had not made one phone call to Screen Australia before deciding to uphold Elisa’s dismissal of my complaint. It is worth pointing out here (please excuse me for belabouring the point) that it took me around 20 months to be provided with copies of the correspondence that Fiona Cameron claimed bore witness to my belief that my ‘Chanti’s World’ application had been greenlit. It contains no such evidence. Why didn’t your office simply ask Fiona to hand over the correspondence in Nov 2010?

On 15th June this year I wrote to you the following:

Following on from my letter of 25th May and my several letters previous to it. As the months drag by with no resolution in sight I can’t help but think of what the alternative might have been, had Alisa Harris asked Fiona Cameron to produce the correspondence she referred to in Nov 2010 and to spend five minutes on the phone asking a few questions of staff within the documentary section of Screen Australia. One way or another the matter would have, or at least could have, been resolved in an hour. Alisa would have discovered that the correspondence did not exist and that Ross Mathews and Claire Jager had not seen the ‘promo’ for my CHANTI’S WORLD  project. An apology could have been given to me  and the matter would have been over and done with.  

Surely, some part of the role of the Ombudsman’s office is to defuse disputes before they get out of hand as opposed to sitting on the sidelines and waiting till hostilities occur of the kind that both parties find it difficult to back away from. I am not going to back away because I have been defamed and my capacity to work in my chosen profession has been adversely affected by my being banned. And Ruth Harley can’t back down without making the implicit admission that she should have and could so easily have resolved the matter 18 months ago.

The same applies with Ruth Harley’s banning of me five weeks ago now. Your office was made aware of this new development almost immediately and could, if it had chosen to do so, asked Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence she was referring to in justification of her banning to whoever it is that is investigating matter # 2010-118398. If Ruth Harley produced the correspondence and it contained clear evidence of the crimes of intimidation, harassment and placing at risk of Screen Australia staff, this would have been immediately apparent and a letter could have been sent to me by your office declaring this to be the case. The matter would have come to an abrupt end and I, with egg all over my own face for having lied about the non-existence of correspondence, would have had to crawl into a hole and lick my (self-inflicted) wounds. Alternatively, Ruth Harley would have had to admit that correspondence of the kind I have been accused of writing does not exist and apologize. Yes, egg all over Ruth Harley’s face but the matter would then have been closed and a great deal of time and energy saved on the parts of many people – including that of whoever it is in your office that is investigating this matter.

Is it possible for your office to give me some indication as to whether or not it intends to ask Ruth Harley to produce the offending correspondence? If the answer is ‘no’, if it is not the role of Ombudsman’s office to do so, I can stop wasting my own and your time by continuing to write to you regarding the matter. If the office of the Ombudsman cannot ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence (or relevant extracts from it) I am at a loss to know how the Ombudsman can determine whether my being banned is appropriate or inappropriate. If it is possible to get an answer to this one question from yourself that would be much appreciated.

You did not respond to this letter. Given that you declined to ask Ruth Harley to produce the correspondence I decided to do whatever was necessary to obtain it – in this instance by arriving at Screen Australia and refusing to leave the foyer without it.  This absurd ploy worked. Ruth Harley came down into the foyer and handed me correspondence with those parts highlighted that bear witness to my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. It would not have been necessary for me to take such extreme (but effective) action if your office had simply requested that Ruth Harley provide me with the correspondence me five months ago. That I should have to resort to guerrilla tactics such as this is absurd but in this asymmetrical war with Screen Australia, I have to do what I have to do to get this matter resolved on the basis of facts and not spin. Here are my questions:

- Has your office seen marked up copies of the ‘intimidating correspondence’ provided to me this week by Ruth Harley? 

- Is your office interested in looking at the evidence that has led to my being banned or is this evidence not considered relevant to your investigation? 

- If you do have copies of my ‘intimidating correspondence’, do you believe that the marked up passages constitute intimidation by myself; of placing members of Screen Australia staff at risk?

- If you believe that my being banned is inappropriate, is the office of the Ombudsman in a position to do anything other than express its ‘concerns’?

- Could you call Claire Jager, Ross Mathews and Liz Crosby this morning and ask them to either confirm or deny my assertion that my CHANTI’S WORLD ‘promo’ was not viewed during the first 2009 assessment of this project?

- Insofar as it is within the ambit of your powers to do so, could you please, today, insist that Ruth Harley engage the services of an independent conciliator/mediator to adjudicate this dispute in an impartial manner – with both Screen Australia and myself obliged to adhere to the conciliator/mediator’s findings without further comment. This should be someone who has no vested interest in the outcome, who is only interested in demonstrable fact and who understands what the word ‘intimidate’ means and the phrase ‘at risk’ implies.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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