Thursday, November 29, 2012


It will come as no surprise to any reader of my blog that there is more to my dispute with Screen Australia than meets the eye. My attempt, wearing my journalist’s hat, to interview Ruth Harley in 2009 speaks for itself:


Out story begins in Nov. 2009. Screen Australia. Screen Australia is close to one year old and I (from here on, JR) wants to write an article about the current state of our film industry and culture. 

JR seeks an interview with Ruth Harley and Martha Coleman. Martha tells him that all interview requests must go through Victoria Buchan of The Lantern Group.

Nov 13, 2009  
Subject: request for an interview with Martha Coleman and Ruth Harley
Dear Victoria
I will be writing an article about Screen Australia and request an opportunity to conduct an interview with Ruth Harley and Martha Coleman.
Mon, 16 Nov 2009  
from Victoria

As discussed on the phone today i am happy to find the time to set up an interview as requested but we do need to know where it will run and when as we have a number of current requests from a range of outlets which we are working to schedule and facilitate. If you can advise me those details I will do my best to find a time as soon as possible. 
Victoria Buchan (VB)
JR Newspapers are not clamouring to commission any articles at all these days - least of all about Screen Australia and the Australian Film Industry. I will write my article 'on spec' - as I have done every article I have ever written and submit it to various newspapers and magazines. If no newspaper or magazine chooses to pick it up, so be it. If Ruth and Martha choose not to be interviewed, so be it. If they are very busy right now (which I can appreciate) I will wait until they are less busy if you can give me some idea of when this might be.
VB Thanks for the information. I’ll put the request in the system but as I said we don’t have any time right now and have a number of other requests in as well, given we are on the 1 year anniversary of Ruth’s appointment.

JR It would be good to know ASAP whether Ruth and Martha will actually agree to an interview and at least a rough time frame within which it might occur. I am writing the article now and don't really want to be waiting around till the new year.

JR does not receive a response to this email, so writes again to Victoria.

JR With SPAA now over I trust that it will be possible to get an answer from Ruth and Martha re an interview. If their intention is simply NOT to do an interview with me I'd prefer to know this sooner rather than later.
VB As I said we won’t be able to find a time until we know when and where the story will be published.

JR Encore will publish my article but I am still hopeful that a version of it will be published by either the Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian.

Victoria Buchan does not respond to this email . The Sydney Morning Herald expresses an interest in an article but it does not commission from freelance journalists and only accepts articles written ‘on spec’.
27 Nov 2009  email to Victoria Buchan

JR It is now three weeks since I requested, directly, an interview with Martha and Ruth. A week later Martha suggested that the request should be made through you. It is now two weeks since I followed Martha's instructions but we seem to be getting nowhere fast.  Please do let me know if Martha and Ruth agree to an interview.  And if they do, roughly what time frame are we looking at?

JR receives no response to this email.
30 Nov 2009

JR (to Victoria Buchan) Do Ruth Harley and Martha Coleman agree, in principle, to being interviewed for my article? A simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice.
1 Dec 2009 
VB At this point they are not available.
JR At what point will they become available? Some time before Christmas? Some time early in the new year? Please give me a time frame?

Victorian Buchan does not respond to this email.
4th Dec. email to Martha Coleman
JR It is a month now since I requested an opportunity to conduct an interview with you and Ruth for an article about Screen Australia and our film ‘industry’. At any time in the past month you could have responded with, “James, we are incredibly busy right now what with X and Y. Could it hold off until Z?” Instead, you have outsourced the business of ignoring my emails to Victoria at the Lantern Group – Victoria eventually informing me curtly that an interview was not possible ‘at this time’….It seems that you and Ruth have no intention of making yourself available for an interview at any time and that you are reluctant to put this into writing as this would make it much too obvious that Screen Australia does not place a high priority on transparency or accountability. Perhaps the hope is that if you ignore my requests for an interview for long enough I will simply give up – leaving you in the position of being able to say, in all honesty,  if challenged on this, “What nonsense! We never denied James an interview! We were just too busy at the time etc.”

th Dec. email to Martha Coleman
JR Following on from my email of Friday 4th. Dec. - a response to which, needless to say, I did not receive....Clearly, you and Ruth have no intention of either agreeing to an interview or of not agreeing to an interview. The end result (and the only one that counts) is that no interview is going to take place. C'est la vie!
JR persists with emails that receive no response. Until 6 weeks later when Fiona Cameron responds:
Fri, 29 Jan 2010 
Dear Mr Ricketson,

I understand that you have requested an interview with the CEO and/or the Head of Development for an article that you are writing 'on spec'. I am advised that our media relations company, the Lantern Group, has already advised you that providing detailed information or interviews for articles being written on spec is not possible given the competing demands on Screen Australia's time.  It is fair to say that subsequent to your discussions with the Lantern Group, many of your emails have gone unanswered.  There comes a time when an organisation such as ours cannot afford the time or resources to continue with such unproductive dialogue.

To be clear, the CEO and the Head of Development will not be available for an interview.  
Dear Fiona

If there is to be any dialogue between us regarding my request for an opportunity to interview Ruth Harley and Martha Coleman, can it please be on the basis of the facts and not of spin?

As you know full well, I informed Victorian Buchan both in a telephone conversation and in an email to her written on 22nd. Nov. that I was writing my article for Encore Magazine. And I made reference to this again in my email to Elizabeth Grinston of 27th. Jan to which your email of 29th. Jan is a response. To refresh your memory: 
"Victoria got back to me to say that an interview could not be granted if I did not have a newspaper or magazine lined up to publish it. When I told her that Encore magazine would publish it Victoria told me that an interview was not possible “at this time.” "

Even if I had been writing my article ‘on spec’ (as indeed I was, when I first spoke with Victoria on he phone) what difference does this make? With a few exceptions (commissioned work) I have spent my entire career starting work on projects ‘on spec’ and completing stage one before approaching a broadcaster or publisher. The same applies for many freelance journalists. Does Screen Australia have a policy of only giving interviews to affiliated journalists?

You write:
 “There comes a time when an organisation such as ours cannot afford the time or resources to continue with such unproductive dialogue.” 
Again, this is, as you are aware, factually incorrect – as even a cursory glance at my attempts to communicate with Ruth, Martha and Ross vis a vis my interview request would reveal. It is the total lack of dialogue with Ruth, Martha and Ross regarding my interview requests that has led me to continue making such requests.

That Ross Mathews has not responded to my emails of 10th Dec, 17th. Dec and 12th. Jan. is not anomalous behaviour on the part of Screen Australia personnel, it is standard procedure. Again, in my email to Elizabeth on 27th. Jan I wrote:
"My email of 11th Dec to Martha (see below), has still not been answered. It seems that Screen Australia has abandoned all pretence at transparency, accountability and professional courtesy."
Email from Fiona Cameron 1st Feb 2010

Dear Mr Ricketson,

Screen Australia and its executive team cannot see any value (for either party) in acceding to an interview request. No such interview will be forthcoming.

yours sincerely,

Fiona Cameron
Email to Fiona Cameron 1st. Feb 2010
Dear Fiona

Does this mean that I will not be getting answers to any of my questions either?


Email from Fiona Cameron 1st Feb 2010 1 Feb 2010

We are not in a position to spend time and resources undertaking research for your article.  There are a variety of sources open to you including our annual report and our website Get the Picture.  I would encourage you to use these services.


Fiona Cameron
Email to Fiona Cameron 1st. Feb 2010
Dear Fiona

I have not requested that you or anyone else at Screen Australia do any research on my behalf. Where did this come from? This is a new reason - to add to the other two given so far for why an interview can't happen - (1) Too busy and (2) No value!

I requested an interview with Ruth and Martha close to three months ago now - logical for a journalist preparing an article. Given that they were 'too busy' to speak with me, I requested an interview with Ross who, as an experienced filmmaker, would be well placed to talk with me. Either Ross does not wish to do so or he has been forbidden from doing so! Hard to know given that Ross does not respond to any emails I send to him.

I accept, after close to three months, that no-one from Screen Australia will speak to me during the preparation of my article.  I will see if a member of the Screen Australia Board will do so. It would be an awful shame not to have a Screen Australia perspective.
Email from Fiona Cameron 1st Feb 2010

Our position regarding an interview is I believe quite clear and I don't intend to be drawn into the issues you have raised extensively with other Screen Australia executives.

I do not intend to enter into any further correspondence regarding these matters.


Fiona Cameron
Executive Director Strategy and Operations
Email to Fiona Cameron 2nd Feb 2010
Dear Fiona

I have indeed raised various issues with 'other Screen Australia executives' this past year. For the most part this has involved the asking of questions that Screen Australia executives simply will not answer…simple questions that require either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer."

…I will leave it to others to decide whether or not I have a right to ask questions such as this and whether it is appropriate for Screen Australia executives, in this case yourself, to refuse to answer them.

Really, Fiona, treating filmmakers with such a lack of professional respect is not good policy.
Letter to the Screen Australia Board 1st. Feb 2010

Dear Members of the Board
I wonder if any member of the Board would be interested in talking to me vis a vis an article I am preparing about the Australian Film Industry?
I realize that this may be a slightly unusual and perhaps inappropriate request but the fact is that Ruth Harley, Martha Coleman, Ross Mathews, Elizabeth Grinston and Fiona Cameron have all declined to be interviewed.
No doubt, were you to ask any of the above-mentioned Screen Australia employees why they do not wish to be interviewed, you would be given any one of a number of reasons. I have been given three different reasons so far.
… I can’t get anyone at Screen Australia to give me a straight answer to any question – not even those that require merely a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer of that can be answered in two words. The current regime of Screen Australia personnel is the most recalcitrant I have ever encountered in my close to 40 years in the industry. It is much easier to speak with a human being at the Australian Tax Office than it is to speak with a human being at Screen Australia.
I am not alone in my experience of being stone-walled by Screen Australia. Many of my fellow filmmakers are, though few are prepared to speak publicly for fear of reprisals. Ours has ceased to be an industry in which there is open (if sometimes heated) discussion about the best way to proceed in these difficult times. We now have, in effect, a Soviet model of filmmaking and any criticism of Screen Australia (implicit or explicit) will be dealt with in the way my requests for an interview have been – the recipients of my emails apparently fearful that I might make some critical observations about Screen Australia policy.
Email to Ruth Harley 1st March 2010
Dear Ruth

I have received no response to my letter of 5th. Feb. and it seems that none will be forthcoming… Yourself, Martha Coleman, Ross Mathews, Elizabeth Grinston, Fiona Cameron, Glen Boreham and Peter Garrett have all made it abundantly clear that no-one within Screen Australia or the Ministry responsible for the organization’s administration is prepared to answer any questions at all from me in relation to Screen Australia’s policies and modus operandi. The fifth and final reason for this refusal is based on a preconception of Glen’s that is demonstrably false if anyone bothered to check with the facts. (see letter to Glen Boreham dated 24th.)

Letter to Glen Boreham, Chair, Screen Australia Board

The Hon Peter Garrett MP has likewise declined to be interviewed for my article – leaving me with no-one at any level of Screen Australia or the Ministry responsible for the organization prepared to answer any questions at all about the role that Screen Australia plays in the film industry. This is an extraordinary state of affairs and makes a mockery of any pretence that Screen Australia has of transparency and accountability.

No interview was ever granted to me, no questions were answered. The Sydney Morning Herald could not consider publishing an article that did not include the perspective of Australia's peak film funding body.

1 comment:

  1. You have been a very naughty boy, Mr Ricketson, harassing those poor Screen Australia bureaucrats to give you an interview! Who do you think you are with your impertinent questions?