Monday, November 19, 2012

Response to Ruth Harley's banning me till May 2014


Ruth Harley
Chief Executive Officer
Screen Australia
level 4
150 William St
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                        20th Nov 2012

Dear Ruth

THE TRIAL: One of Kafka's best-known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed to neither him nor the reader.

I have to admire your tenacity in prosecuting a case over a period of six months without producing one shred of evidence in support of your allegation that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia's staff!

Am I right in presuming, given that in your letter dated 16th Nov. you are ‘writing...at the Screen Australia Board’s request’, that you have presented the Board with evidence that I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk? It is hard to imagine the Board extending my ban to May 2014 without powerful evidence that I am guilty as charged. 

Why have you, despite six months of my asking that you do so, provided me with no evidence at all that I have placed SA staff at risk. What do you mean by ‘at risk’? Have I ever threatened any member of Screen Australia staff in any way in any of my correspondence? If so, could you please provide me with at least one example? Have I ever threatened a member of your staff in any other way - either inside or outside Screen  Australia? Have I, for instance, stalked someone? Have I left rude messages on a Screen Australia employee’s phone? Have I bailed up a member of your staff at a film or social function and given them a piece of my mind? The answer to all of these questions is, as you know, ‘no’.

You write: 

“Clearly, there have been various developments in relation to your dealings with Screen Australia since my letter of 10 May 2012.” 

This is a wonderful example of bureaucratic understatement! ‘Various developments’ indeed! You had me arrested in the foyer of Screen Australia on 15th Oct for the crime of sitting reading the marked up correspondence you had recently provided me with. You called the police again early in the afternoon of 9th Oct to have me arrested when I was merely sitting in the foyer at 150 William St harming no-one, threatening no-one.

You write: 

“Unfortunately, the events which have occurred have only served to reinforce Screen Australia’s concerns for its staff.”

Are you suggesting  that whilst sitting in the foyer I was, in some way, placing your staff at risk? Did any of those working at the Reception desk feel at risk? Did I do or say anything to any of them to place them at risk? If so, why, when the police arrived, were they totally mystified as to why they were there? Why, when they took me back to Kings Cross police station, did they not charge me with some offense  that would give some weight to your assertion that I continue to place your staff at risk?

Perhaps the third Screen Australia witness to appear in court on 20th Dec is from Reception? If so, she and Fiona Cameron will have ample opportunity to present to the court the proposition that I was placing one or both of them at risk, despite the fact that I was not charged with any crime that approximates intimidation, harassment or placing anyone at risk. I was charged only with trespass and breach of bail conditions - both of which were dismissed by a bemused judge in Parramatta Court.

So, Ruth, what ‘concerns’ do you have for your staff? You will not, of course, answer this question. More worrying, it seems that the Board does not think you are under any obligation to answer this question Indeed any question) or to provide me with evidence of the crimes I have been charged with and found guilty of in a process that approximates a 17th century Star Chamber. As the months pass without being presented with any evidence of my crimes, this dispute is taking on more and more of the qualities of Franz Kafka’s THE TRIAL. You seem determined not to find any way of resolving this dispute on the basis of verifiable facts but to hope that a combination of spin and a a Board disinterested in facts, evidence and truth will win the day. You may be right but I am sure you will appreciate that I am not going to roll over and accept your outrageous behaviour without a fight.

You repeat the ‘risk’ accusation a second time in the same paragraph:

“Nothing which you have written, said or done since 10 May provides Screen Australia with any basis on which to conclude that its staff are no longer at risk in dealing with you.”

This sentence is worthy of parsing. The concept of Screen Australia  staff no longer being at risk in dealing with me presumes that they were at some point at risk and we are back to the question:  “At risk of what?” (see above) Natural justice, and of course Common Law, require that you prove that I have placed your staff at risk. It is not up to me to prove that I no longer pose a risk - especially since you have not provided me with even a clue as to what you mean by ‘at risk’. 

And as for the phrase, ‘dealing with you’, this is worthy of being dealt with! What dealings have members of Screen Australia staff had with me since the organization’s inception? Here they are, in toto:

(1) In mid 2009 I met with Ross Mathews and Liz Crosby and spoke, in a teleconference, with Claire Jager in Melbourne. It was during this meeting that it became apparent that Ross and Claire, having already knocked back my CHANTI’S WORLD development application, had probably not seen the ‘promo’ that was the centrepiece of it - neither being able to recollect having seen it. Was there anything in this meeting that led Ross, Liz or Claire to feel that they were at risk? This proposition has certainly not been presented to me at any point in the past three and a half years.

(2) In August 2010 I had another meeting with Ross Mathews and Julia Overton - part of which was attended also by Liz Crosby. It was in this meeting that Ross confirmed that he and Claire had not viewed my CHANTI’S WORLD ‘promo’ in mid 2009 and in which Julia Overton confirmed that she too had not seen it. The meeting ended very amicably. This is the meeting that Fiona Cameron would later refer to as the one I left believing that CHANTI’S WORLD had been greenlit and that I had made this clear in correspondence. That no such correspondence exists was established 20 or so months later - a fact that has been conveniently been ignored by yourself and the Board, as if the existence or non-existence of the correspondence is of no consequence in relation to this dispute. The proposition has never been presented to me that Ross, Julia or Liz felt in any way at risk in speaking with me during this August 2010 meeting. Are you suggesting now that they were at risk?

These are the only two occasions since Screen Australia’s inception that I have met with members of Screen Australia staff; the only two occasions in which I had an opportunity to place members of your staff at risk. 

As you know, as Ross, Julia,Claire and Liz know I did nothing and said nothing to make any of them feel at risk. Or, if I did, why has there never been any mention of my having done so? If, at this late date, you are suggesting to me that I did place these members of your staff at risk, could you please provide me with some details. You will not do so, however, because you have no interest at all in basing your accusations in fact. You decided you wanted to ban me, you needed what appeared to be a good reason to do so, so manufactured the proposition in May that I had placed your staff at risk. Mind you, back in May you also charged me with intimidation and harassment. Have I been cleared or these charges by the Board or have you decided that accusing me placing your staff ‘at risk’ is sufficiently vague and sounds sufficiently threatening to justify your ban without having to back up the accusation with evidence of any kind?

The subtext of your letter of 16th Nov is pretty clear, just as your letter of 10th May was: We do not like what you write on your blog but if you stop writing nasty things about me and Fiona maybe, if you are lucky, in May 2014 we’ll consider accepting your applications again. 

It does not surprise me at all that you have gone down the path you have, Ruth. It does, however, surprise (and concern) me that the Board is prepared to go along with the notion of my placing your staff at risk without the need that there be any evidence in support of the proposition. Or, if there is evidence, that there is no requirement on the part of the Board to provide me with it and give me an opportunity to respond to it, to defend myself against the charges that have been laid.

It is truly astounding to me that Rachel Perkins, Claudia Karvan, Richard Keddie and other members of the Board seem not only to have no interest at all in what you mean by ‘at risk’ but no concept that I, as the one who has been accused of placing Screen Australia staff at risk, have no right to be presented with evidence of my having done so.

A final quote from the noted linguist Humpty Dumpty:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
 "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master
      that's all."
best wishes
james Ricketson

11 comments:

  1. Hell hath no sure like a woman scorned!

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  2. How is it that Screen Australia staff would be at risk processing a script or documentary development application from Ricketson but not at risk processing “producer offset applications lodged by companies owned, managed or otherwise associated with (him)?” The man either constitutes a risk to Screen Australia staff or he doesn’t, Dr Harley. You have, here, revealed the true purpose of your ban - to starve an already struggling filmmaker into submission. And got the Board to go along with it on the basis of evidence that either doesn’t exist or that you and the Board have chosen to keep secret!

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  3. How disappointing that Claudia and Richard didn’t go into the foyer to talk to James before he was arrested during the Board meeting. I would have expected better of both of them.

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    1. You expect better because you have not been invited into the inner sanctum. When and if you are you will discover that you are part of a team and that there term plays by its own self-serving rules. You need Ruth Harley and the whole Screen Australia development apparatus for your own projects and you need to have the Board onside to vote for your projects when you leave the room when they vote on them. You are in the inner sanctum. You do not shit in the inner sanctum whilst a privileged member of it.

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  4. Hi James,

    What about the money you owe?

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  5. I'll address the question of the money when time prevails but it is peripheral to my primary concern now - which is that my reputation is being trashed by the false allegation that I have placed Screen Australia staff at risk. The money is a side issue, though the timing of the decision to recoup $11,000 nine years down the line should provide a clue.

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  6. Reluctantly AnonymousNovember 20, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Given that the production of the evidence that Ricketson has placed Screen Australia staff at risk would totally destroy his credibility and provide retrospective justification for his being banned, I am at a loss to understand why Ruth Harley doesn't just release it!

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  7. James, you do realize,don’t you, that your being banned has nothing to do with you placing anyone at risk? It has everything to do with your blog! You call a spade a spade and not a fucking shovel and articulate what a lot of us in the industry think but are afraid to express in public for fear of retribution. I have spent quite a bit of my life as a film bureaucrat and I can tell you that for the purposes of discussion there are basically three kinds of filmmakers - the ‘in-group’, the ‘out-group’ and the ‘floaters’. The ‘in group’ gets money thrown at them all the time and it is not in their best interests, for the most part, to make public criticisms of Screen Australia or, before it, the FFC or the AFC. If they have reservations about how the peak film funding body operates, they keep these largely to themselves - moaning and complaining only to fellow ‘in-group’ members in private. I should add here that many in the ‘in-group’ deserve to be there. They make good films. They make good television. It is the ones in the ‘in-group’ who are not there as a result of their talent or track record that should concern us all. They suck on the Screen Australia teat but produce nothing of value. It is not in their interests to question the status quo in pubic so they too keep their mouths shut...

    continued below

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  8. ...Then there is the ‘out-group’ made up of the bulk of the industry. These are filmmakers who desperately want to be part of the ‘in-group’ and so will not say or do anything that will jeopardize their chances of joining the ‘in-group’. They do not wish to alienate the senior bureaucrats who have the capacity to either advance or hold back their aspirations. There are plenty within this ‘out-group’ who should be in the ‘in-group’ if talent and track record were all that counted. Unfortunately, talent and track record are often not enough to sway the minds of senior bureaucrats who have become part of a patronage system not unlike the one that we see unfolding daily in the media in relation to Eddie Obeid. The film industry has its power brokers also and one messes with them at one’s peril - as you know full well from your own experience.

    Then there are the floaters’ who move back and forth between the ‘in-group’ and the ‘out-group’ who, for the most part, also do not want to jeopardize their chances of remaining with the ‘in-group’ if they are members right now or to make it difficult to rejoin the ‘in-group’ if they are, for the time being not a part of it.

    These categories are only for the purposes of discussion and to demonstrate that whichever category you fall into it is in your best interests as a film practitioner to keep your criticisms to yourself. The status quo is thus maintained through the silence of most who are reliant in one way or another on Screen Australia to practice their chosen profession.

    There are a few things that can upset this apple cart. One is if filmmakers unite, across the boundaries that separate us (producer, director, screenwriter etc.) and put pressure on the incumbent Minister to change the status quo. Another is a vibrant media that keeps filmmakers informed about what is going on within the industry. Encore magazine used to do this but does so no longer. A commercial decision, I presume. Another is forums and get-togethers of one kind or another in which ideas can be exchanged and members of the current bureaucratic class challenged and asked to be accountable for the decisions they make. This has been actively discouraged by Screen Australia. Then there are individuals such as yourself who challenge the status quo in a public forum. What troubles me here (and it troubles me greatly) is not just that Ruth Harley has been able to ban you without giving you an opportunity to defend yourself by providing concrete examples of your crimes and it is not just that the Screen Australia Board has gone along with this. No, what troubles me even more is that the film industry as a whole has accepted this new status quo (Ruth Harley acting with immunity) without articulating any doubt whatsoever about how and why this banning has occurred. But what troubles me even more than this is that I am writing this anonymously. I am now in the latter years of my career. I know all the players. I have been a player and am, to a certain extent, one still. A minor player I should add. I know, however, that if I were to go public with my concerns about the lack of due process in banning you my own career would suffer and, given the nature of the work I do, probably be at an end. I feel somewhat ashamed of myself for my cowardice, admire your perseverence and hope that your battle with Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board is eventually, one way or another, decided on the basis of whatever crimes you may have committed (if you have indeed committed any) and not on the basis of Ruth Harley’s - backed up, at this point in time, by no evidence.

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    1. Of course I know that my being charged with placing Screen Australia staff ‘at risk’ is nonsense and that the real problem is my blog. This would be blindingly obvious to anyone who looked at the facts, at the evidence. Alas, it seems that no-one is, though despite their apparent endorsement of the ban on 9th Nov, I hold out hope that Claudia Karvan and Richard Keddie might respond to my letters by either convincing the Board that it must provide evidence of my placing SA staff at risk or make the symbolic gesture of lifting the ban - symbolic in the sense that Screen Australia does not need a ban to marginalize me or any other filmmaker.

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    2. I wouldn’t hold my breath, James. Richard and Claudia are part of the ‘in-group.’ Quite deservedly so but this is not the point. They are not going to question the wisdom, on the part of their fellow Board members, of handing down the ban on you in May. Any backing off on the part of the Board now would raise questions about its competence in banning it in the first place and possibly its integrity also in being a party to what is clearly an act of revenge on Ruth Harley’s part.

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