Tuesday, May 13, 2014

WHY THE SCREEN AUSTRALIA BOARD SHOULD BE SACKED. Letter for George Brandis, Minister for the Arts

The Hon George Brandis MP
Minister for the Arts
Commonwealth Parliament Offices
Level 361 Eagle St
Brisbane QLD 4000                                                                                       

13th May 2014

Dear Senator Brandis

On 7th May, Glen Boreham, Chair, Screen Australia board, wrote to tell me that the Screen Australia board had decided to extend the ban on me for another two years – to May 2016. The ostensible reason:

“That your deliberate, repeated and inappropriate personal attacks on Screen Australia staff through letters and internet publications appear intended to humiliate and damage the reputation of Screen Australia staff in a way that is unacceptable to Screen Australia.”

On the same day, 7th May, I a letter to you that begins:

“You champion the right of bigots to express their opinions in public, but do you champion the right of  members of the public to express their less-than-complimentary opinions about public servants in public?” 

Consider the dispute between myself and Screen Australia in relation to many of the public statements you have made about ‘freedom of speech’. Here is one:

“If you are going to defend freedom of speech, you have to defend the right of people to say things you would devote your political life to opposing. Your good faith is tested by whether or not you would defend the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree. That’s the test.’”

Do you believe that I have a right to refer to various members of senior management at Screen Australia as ‘playing fast and loose with the truth’, as being ‘parsimonious with the truth’  or, on occasion, ‘liars’? This is as offensive as my language has ever been in any of my correspondence with Screen Australia this past six years.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was called a liar in many public fora (including parliament) but no-one was banned by a government department for using the ‘l’ word. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is now being referred to regularly as a ‘liar’. Has anyone been banned by a government body for doing so? No. If it is OK to call our Prime Ministers liars, why not senior public servants – especially when the facts (if anyone bothered to look at them) bear out the truth of the epithet? (It is worth pointing out that the specific ‘crimes’ Glen Boreham refers to, humiliating and damaging the reputation of others, is a sport much practiced in Federal parliament! Indeed, some politicians are regularly praised for their ability to humiliate members of the opposing team and inflict as much reputational damage as possible.)

There will, inevitably, be limits to the freedom of speech you champion. And there should be. Standing up in a crowded cinema and screaming ‘there’s bomb’ under my seat, for instance.

If I have exceeded the limits of what is acceptable in terms of free speech in any way, perhaps being banned for four years is an appropriate punishment. However, such draconian sentence cannot, in accordance with the dictates of natural justice, be imposed without (a) the accused being provided with evidence of his crimes, (b) the accused being given the right of respond to that evidence and (c) the accused being given the right of appeal.  

Despite two years of asking for it, no evidence has ever been given to me that I intimidated of placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff in my correspondence prior to 9th May 2012 – the ostensible reason for the first 2 year ban. Now, in May 2014, I am again being banned without being provided with any evidence, the right to respond to it or the right to appeal the decision made by the board.

The other assertions Glen Boreham makes in his letter of 7th May, in support of the new ban are as follows:

“That you are ineligible for funding under Screen Australia’s  Terms of Trade (paragraph 1.1.1) because you and/or related entities have an outstanding debt of $32, 629.19 owing to Screen Australia.”

Is it appropriate to ban a filmmaker for two years because he has a debt to Screen Australia?

The other is:

“That your substantive complaints about Screen Australia’s decision not to fund your production Chanti’s World have been exhaustively addressed including by external review by the Commonwealth ombudsman.”

This statement is demonstrably untrue in every respect. I never, at any point, made a complaint to Screen Australia about not receiving funding for CHANTI’S WORLD. Glen knows this to be the case. So does the board. Glen is lying. And the board is going along with the lie because its members must clutch at whatever straw they can to justify both the first ban on me and now this second one. Even if I had complained about not receiving funding, is this a reason to ban someone for four years? No, of course not.

So we are left with my having ‘humiliated’ Screen Australia staff; with having damaged their reputations. If I have a right to the free speech that you espouse, your should overturn the board’s ban.

In any event, natural justice demands that I be provided with evidence of crimes so drastic as to lead to my being banned for four years. If this evidence is not forthcoming, the Screen Australia board has denied me natural justice and should, I believe, be sacked – not for the damage its members have done to my career but because they clearly do not have the kind of commitment to transparency, accountability and natural justice we have a right to expect from Australia’s peak film funding body.

best wishes

James Ricketson


  1. I have just spent two hours reading through dozens of Ricketson's blog entries but could find nothing in them that should lead to his being banned. I did find a lot of positive suggestions about how Australian films could be improved. Some are good. Some I don't agree with. Why don't we talk about this stuff? I am a young filmmaker and would love to say heaps of things about Screen Australia but to be perfectly honest I am scared shitless to.

  2. I have followed James' battle with Screen Australia closely and read every one of his blog entries since he was banned. A few points need to be made. Right from the outset he has asked, begged, that Screen Australia make pubic evidence that he had intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia's staff. Screen Australia has persistently refused to do so. Right from the outset he has suggested that the dispute be put in hands of an independent arbitrator - someone outside of Screen Australia who could look at the facts dispassionately and determine whether or not there was anything in his letters or emails that was intimidating or would cause Screen Australia personnel to be fearful for their safety. Screen Australia has refused to do do. He has made the same request of two (or is it three) Ministers for the Arts but they refuse to do anything to either verify the truth of the allegations or to prove them false. This is not surprising because the ministers advisors are friends with the very people within Screen Australia whose honesty and integrity they are supposed to monitor. This is the key problem. There is a clique of friends and associates in the upper echelons of the film industry who take care of each other, watch each others backs. Martha Coleman recommending funding to Goalpost Pictures just before she leaves Screen Australia to work for Goalpost pictures is symptomatic of the problem. And there are very few within the industry who will speak in the open about what we all speak about in hushed and angry tones behind closed doors. James has spoken about it and he is paying the price for being a critic. Banning critics is something that happens in dictatorships not in democracies. There should be, there needs to be, an ICAC style investigation into how the film industry is run.

  3. Is it legal? I mean can the Screen Australia board just ban someone for two years like this? There must be some unfair dismissal law or something that makes it illegal! Isn't there?

  4. Why has the Australian Director’s Guild stayed silent on Ricketson’s being banned?

    1. Reluctantly AnonymousMay 13, 2014 at 4:55 PM

      Because filmmakers who need Screen Australia fall into three categories (a) Those who are insiders, part of the club, and whose every project will get funding, (b) those whose projects will be funded on the basis of their quality and not on whether or not they are members of the club and (c) Those who are not members of the club, who will never be members of the club if they even suggest, in public, that there is a club. Those in categories (b) and (c) dare not speak out. Those in category (a) have no reason to speak out. The ADG wants to remain on good terms with Screen Australia and so will say nothing. Add to this list journalists who wish to remain on good terms with everyone in the club, including the bureaucratic senior management members of it and you can understand why there is little or no public discussion about what actually goes on within the industry and why no-one will speak out in defense of. James’ right to be a vocal critic of Screen Australia and to ask the kinds of questions that we would all like to be given answers to.

  5. Given that government ministers can lie with impunity to the voting public and get away with it, it is not surprising that the Screen Australia board can do the same by way of justifying its decision to ban Ricketson. Who is going to call them on their lies? ANd if no-one is, the lies can be as blatant as the board wants them to be or feels they need to be in order to justify its actions. I am a novice filmmaker who would love to be able to express my ideas in public without fearing retribution. I will not do so. I have recently married and may have kids in a few years time. I cannot afford to wind up on a Screen Australia blacklist if I wish to make a career in this very uncertain business. I feel intimidated by the Screen Australia ban on Ricketson but must keep my feelings and my fears to myself. this is not as it should be.