Sunday, October 7, 2012

Still no evidence in support of ban!

Ruth Harley
Chief Executive Officer
Screen Australia
Level 4, 150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                               8th Oct 2012

Dear Ruth

As you know, the only reason I pursued you and Fiona in the Supreme Court of NSW was because you refused to provide me with any evidence of my having intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. The Screen Australia Board was likewise uninterested in your providing me with such evidence. Nor were either the minister, Simon Crean or the office of the Ombudsman prepared to even ask you to produce evidence in support of your allegations. And my attempt to acquire copies of my ‘intimidating correspondence’ through FOI legislation resulted in Screen Australia sending me copies of pretty well every letter or email I have sent to the organization since its inception. I thought to myself, “Well, in order to defend herself in the Supreme Court Ruth will have to present evidence of my having intimidated her staff and placed them at risk. When she is unable to do so, I will win the case, be $1 richer and have my reputation restored.” Yes, a rather roundabout and inefficient way of achieving the same goal that FOI legislation is intended to achieve, but one does what one must when those whose task it is to see to it that the precepts of transparency and accountability are adhered to fail to do so. That the hearing last week lasted little more than 10 minutes had nothing, as you know, to do with the facts of the matter, with any evidence provided by myself or Screen Australia’s counsel. My Statement of Claim was dismissed purely and simply because I had failed to fill out the Statement of Claim forms in accordance with the very strict rules of the Supreme Court.

I wonder how much Screen Australia has spent in legal costs defending your right to keep secret from me evidence in support of the proposition that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence? How many screenplays might have been funded with this money? Or, perhaps, the production of a short film by an up and coming filmmaker!

Given your declaration, in your letter of May 10th, that you would not respond to any correspondence from me I guess I should take your letter of 5th Oct as a step forward.  You write:

Over time, Screen Australia may be willing to review the decision which it has taken in relation to you. However, before doing so, we would need to be certain that our staff were no longer placed at risk in dealing with you.  

Despite months of my asking, you have provided no evidence at all that I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk or that I have intimidated any member of it. At risk of what? When was this supposedly ‘intimidating correspondence’ written? To whom? Could you please provide me with one paragraph, one sentence, one phrase or even one word that could be interpreted as either intimidating or placing your staff at risk? No, you won’t provide me with evidence because you can’t. Such correspondence does not exist. The closest you have been able to come to producing it is emails I have sent to Liz Crosby that have ‘distressed’ her!

But let’s just presume for a moment, in the parallel universe that Screen Australia inhabits, that writing an email or letter to a member of your staff that ‘distresses’ them is the equivalent of intimidating them. How can I ever make you ‘certain’ that I will write no such correspondence in the future? Do I make a statutory declaration that I will write no emails to any members of your staff in which I ask questions or make criticisms of their lack of transparency and accountability or their inability to adhere to Screen Australia guidelines or the Public Service Code of Conduct? Or is your desire for certainty that I no longer pose a ‘risk’ a coded request (demand) that I cease criticizing you and Screen Australia on my blog? If I were to close it down and hence remove the possibility that you and your staff might be distressed by what they read, would this ‘convince’ you that I no longer posed a risk? You will, of course, provide me with no clues as to how I might convince you that I no longer pose a risk, any more than you have provided me with evidence that I posed a risk in the first place! Your ban has nothing to do with risk or intimidation. If I do not know (and am not allowed to know) the nature of the evidence of my having intimidated and placed your staff at risk, how can I possibly address the problem in such a way that the Board can review its decision?

As you know, Stephen Nowicki, Senior Investigator with the office of the Ombudsman, has ‘concerns’ about the Screen Australia Board’s decision not to accept applications of any kind from me in the future. Your letter of 5th Oct makes it quite clear that you intend to stick with the Screen Australia ban regardless of Mr Nowicki’s ‘concerns’. Whether Mr Nowicki’s concerns will remain just that – ‘concerns’ or whether they will result in action of any kind remains to be seen.

In amongst all the sound and fury generated by this dispute, it is easy to forget that there are actual film projects at stake. ‘Chanti’s World’ may or may not have the potential be a great documentary but has anyone at Screen Australia even viewed the DVD that accompanied the application I made some months ago and which led to your informing me of your fatwa? The same applies with ‘Honour’, which you have knocked back – unread by anyone at Screen Australia. Imagine this:

It is 2013. There is 3rd or 4th draft of ‘Honour’. It is a fine and timely screenplay that is in sync with the zeitgeist and clearly worthy of support of the kind that Screen Australia has been set up to provide. This is the assessment of everyone who reads the screenplay. Everyone, that is, except members of Screen Australia staff who have not read it, who will not read it, who refuse to read it as a result of the ban placed by you on the screenwriter (and ratified by the Screen Australia board) on the basis of evidence that neither you nor the Board will make public! Here is a one paragraph description of the project, ‘Honour’ that you have decided to knock back unread:

On the first day of Eid, at a family celebration of the end of Ramadan, 18 year old Jasmin is a devoutly religious ‘good Muslim girl’ with a close and loving relationship with her father, Zayan,  and her mother Mysha. Other than her slightly risqué sense of humour (at the expense of the Prophet Muhammad’s sexual proclivities) there is little to suggest that in the not-too-distant future she will find herself in conflict with her family, her community and her imam (‘uncle’ Bashir) as a result first of all of her befriending a 19 year old Jewish woman, Hannah, and later becoming her lover; that she will make it onto the front pages of newspapers and be the subject of an intrusive, sensational and factually inaccurate investigative TV report when she identifies herself as the comedienne who has been telling risqué jokes about Muhammad; that her life will be in danger as she tries to prevent the forced marriage of 16 year old Fatima to her second cousin in Afghanistan – a marriage that will almost certainly result in Fatima being the victim of an ‘honour killing’ when it is discovered that she is not a virgin. Jasmin is confronted as the story unfolds and becomes increasingly complex with a series of choices that revolve around whether she should live her life in accordance with the dictates of her own conscience or in compliance with the expectations of her father, her family, and Islam as it is practiced in the community of which she is a part and from which she does not wish to be alienated.

It is too early, of course, to know if I will write a good screenplay or a mediocre one. If the former should turn out to be the case and you are still CEO, will you continue to ban even the reading of my screenplay on the basis that I may at some point in the future ‘distress’ (read ‘intimidate’) a member of your staff?

best wishes

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. James, you are going to wind up with a fatwa of a different kind if you try to tell the story of a Muslim girl falling in love with a Jewish girl! Not sure if you are really really brave or just plain stupid!