Wednesday, October 16, 2013
LIES - Somaly Mam and Screen Australia Part One
The problem with lies, even small and seemingly insignificant lies, is collateral damage. People are hurt in ways never intended by the person who told the lie. And small lies, when discovered, require bigger lies to provide cover for the smaller one and so it goes until a whole edifice is based on the accumulation of lies. This is relevant to my dispute with Screen Australia but for the time being I’ll confine myself to Cambodia.
On 4th Oct I wrote in my blog about Somaly Mam – a world famous campaigner against sex slavery and friend to the rich and famous as a result of her humanitarian work.
TIME magazine regularly carries ads for Somaly Mam’s Foundation. These are full page ads dominated by a heavily photoshopped photo of Somaly Mam looking as much like a movie star as possible. Such ads are not cheap. Would TIME magazine dare publish an investigative piece about Somaly and her NGO? I doubt it. If TIME did, if an investigative journalist from the magazine started to ask a few questions s/he would very quickly find out that Somaly’s announcement that a police raid of her AFESIP centre in Phnom Penh in 2004 resulted in 8 girls being murdered was a lie. Such a whopping lie should, you would think, destroy Somaly Mam’s credibility entirely or, at the very least, raise questions about how much of the story she tells about her own life is true and how much has been made up in order to help her raise money for a good cause?
That Somaly Mam has played fast and loose with the truth this past 15 years or, as Malcolm Turnbull once put it, has been ‘economical with the truth’, has been common knowledge within the Cambodian NGO community for years. Everyone knew but no-one spoke of it in public. After all, Somaly’s NGO was doing good work rescuing sex slaves, wasn’t she? If she tells a few fibs to raise money does it really matter?
On 12th Oct. the Cambodia Daily published a story about Somaly Mam Mam entitled SEX SLAVE STORY REVEALED TO BE FABRICATED – written by Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha. In reference to Somaly Mam’s documentary, upon which her rise to international stardom is based they write:
The documentary opens with the camera focused on Ms. Ratha, who was then a chubby teenager of about 14-years-old from Takeo province. Ms. (Somaly) Mam is seated at the young girl’s side as she tells a dismal tale of sexual slavery in an unnamed brothel somewhere in Phnom Penh.
“My name is Meas Ratha and I am 14 years old. I was born in the province of Takeo and I have seven brothers and sisters. My family is very poor. My father has disappeared. One year ago my mother fell seriously ill. I was completely distraught. I was very young and I didn’t know what to do,” the young Ms. Ratha says to the camera. She then cries and receives a comforting squeeze of support from Ms. Mam.
For readers who may have made a financial contribution to the Somaly Mam Foundation on the basis of what they have read, this article should be read:
Meas Ratha, aged 14, with Somaly Mam at her side, continues with her testimony:
“They locked me up in a room and at that time I knew I had been deceived,” she continues.
The documentary goes on to explain how the young girl had been promised a job as a waitress in Phnom Penh, but wound up a captive in a brothel. Later, she is filmed playing musical chairs, skipping rope, singing alongside other girls being cared for inside the Afesip center and helping Ms. Mam treat an AIDS patient called Tom Dy.
Sixteen years since the documentary was televised, Ms. Ratha—now 32 years old and married—said her testimony for the France 2 channel was fabricated and scripted for her by Ms. Mam as a means of drumming up support for the organization.
Both Somaly and her Foundation have cruised financially on this documentary ever since and Somaly now counts as her friends Susan Sarandon and has been named, in 2009, as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Somaly Mam is a jet-setting ambassador for her cause. She is also a liar. Meas Ratha is the collateral damage, living for the past 16 years with the reputation of having been a prostitute when she was not – all in support of the lies upon which Somaly Mam’s reputation and capacity to raise money is based. (Citipointe church does precisely the same in its presentation of Rosa and Chit as ‘victims of human trafficking’ but that is another story at this point.)
On 4th Oct I wrote in my blog:
Now, if Somaly Mam is essentially a liar whose lies are an essential part of her money raising modus operandi and if her Foundation is doing good work with victims of sex slavery, an argument could be made, I suppose (though I would not do so) that her lies are harmless if they result in her Foundation being able to help girls what are genuinely in need of help. But if Somaly can tell whatever story she likes in order to raise money, why can’t other NGOs do the same? If Somaly can lie about the police raid in 2004, why can’t Citipointe church lie about rescuing ‘victims of human trafficking’? Why can’t all NGOs tell whatever lie they like in order to keep the sponsor and donor dollars flowing in – without which dollars they cannot do the good work they outline on their websites?
For those who may be tempted to believe everything they read that emanates from the publicity departments of NGOs in the business of rescuing children from poverty and the sex trade, (Citipointe church and the Somaly Mam Foundation being but two examples) this article will open your eyes and make you cautious and, hopefully, inclined to ask questions of any NGO you wish to support.
Yes, of course there are plenty of good NGOs working in the field but there are also plenty that are either incompetent or are outright scams – including some that receive AusAID funds.
Lies such as Somaly Mam’s can go undetected (remain secret, hidden from public view) for years. Many lies are never revealed for what they are. Some lies become accepted as the truth after a period of time if no-one contests them in a public forum. This is my problem with Screen Australia. That I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff is a demonstrable lie that has become a truth ratified by the Screen Australia Board. I am, officially, on the record, a filmmaker who is guilty of intimidating and placing at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff.
The damage to my career caused by Ruth Harley’s lie cannot be undone. However, I can rescue my reputation from the damage done to it by Ruth Harley’s lie and by the lies (and the silence) of others within Screen Australia – some of whom retain significant positions within senior management. Or, should I say, I can attempt to rescue my reputation which, when all is said and done, is much more important top me than my career.
…to be continued