Monday, July 18, 2016

Screen Australia digs in its heels. The wagons circle!

Members of the Screen Australia Board
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007

11th July 2016

Dear Members of the Screen Australia Board

Nicholas Moore,
Rosemary Blight
Al Clarke
Matthew Leibmann

You have banned me again. For another two years. Six years in total now.

Really, Al and Rosemary, two filmmakers banning a fellow filmmaker!

How do you justify this ban? To yourselves? To me? To the film ‘industry’?

You know that there is no evidence that, prior to May 2012, I intimidated, harassed or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. You know that the ban on me is based on a lie! And yet you go along with it. Why? Because the wagons must circle around Fiona Cameron to protect her?

If you really do believe that it me who is lying when I assert my innocence, provide me with three instances, from my correspondence prior to May 12th 2012, that constitute evidence that I am guilty as charged. Hey, just provide me with one! Surely it must be easy to provide at least one instance in which I intimidated and/or placed at risk a member of Screen Australia staff in my correspondence!?

I have asked such questions countless times this past four years. You will not answer them, any more than previous members of the board would. The simple reason for this is that I am not guilty as charged.

And you know it.

As for the most recent two year ban, announced to me by Graeme Mason on 16th May, Graeme’s explanation of the need for it is as follows:

1     Since 7 May 2014 you have continued to write offensive, harassing and defamatory letters and emails to Screen Australia board members and staff and to publish these letters and emails on the internet.
2     These letters and internet publications seem intended to humiliate and damage the reputation of Screen Australia staff.
3     The manner and frequency of your letters has made some staff feel upset, distressed and personally attacked. This is unacceptable to Screen Australia, particularly as staff have been directed by the board not to correspond with you due to the ban.
I will ask again: please provide me with three examples where, this past two years, I have written “offensive, harassing and defamatory letters and emails to Screen Australia board members and staff,”; where I have sought to “humiliate” members of Screen Australia’s staff?

Or just one example!

You will not do so. You hope that the mere assertion that I am guilty of these offences will suffice. Throw enough mud and some of it will stick, right! Repeat the same tired allegations often enough and it will be assumed, by those with an interest in all this, that where there is smoke there must be fire: “The Screen Australia board would not ban Ricketson for six year unless he was guilty of something fairly horrific!”

You can get away with such dishonest bureaucratic bullying (intimidation!?) because you can rest assured that the Ombudsman is a toothless tiger with no interest at all in evidence of either my guilt or innocence. You can rest assured also that Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting) will not release to me a copy of Ruth Harley’s 2012 submission to Mr Ian Govey which, presumably, contains evidence of the heinous offenses that necessitated I be banned. And you can rest assured that there is a section within the Freedom of Information Act that enables Graeme Mason to refuse my repeated requests for evidence of my guilt – be this Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Govey or any other evidence Screen Australia has in support of the ban on me: “Don’t worry, Graeme, we’ve got your back. Just keep stonewalling Ricketson. Screen Australia is under no legal obligation to provide him with evidence of his guilt, thanks to the very clever wording of the altered ‘Terms of Trade’: ‘forms the view’.”

Yes, Screen Australia can ‘form the view’ that the earth is flat or that the moon is made of cheese and is under no obligation to provide evidence in support of such propositions.

Really, Al and Rosemary! You go along with this nonsense!?

The deck is stacked against me. You know this.

I doubt very much that you really believe that the appalling way in which Sceen Australia has treated me is fair? If it had happened to either of you, Al and Rosemary, how would you have responded? Your careers as Australian filmmakers effectively terminated on the basis of allegations you know to be untrue and which you could prove to be untrue if anyone was interested in looking at the facts; the evidence.

Would you just have sucked it up, back in 2012 – the banning of you? Accepted your fate without protest? The damage to your reputation? The loss of income? Or would you, as I have, request that the Screen Australia board provide evidence of your guilt? Even if your repeated requests were characterized by the board as harassment?

You both understand, in your roles as film and TV producers, that the Screen Australia ban, rendering it impossible for me to take advantage of the Producer Offset (which would require communication with Screen Australia, which is forbidden), effectively makes it impossible for me to make films in this country. It is not just the lack of access to the Producer Offset that is the problem. It is also that other film funding bodies are reluctant (to say the least!) to fund the development of projects that have not a snowflakes chance in hell of being made. And then there are, in this collaborative ‘industry’ of ours,  professional colleagues who can see no upside in collaborating with a banned filmmaker; with someone who intimidates and places at risk Screen Australia film bureaucrats.

Does not the effective termination of the career of a fellow filmmaker bother you at all?

As for “some staff feel upset, distressed and personally attacked”, the only person on staff at Screen Australia to whom this assertion could apply is Fiona Cameron – whose playing fast and loose with the truth re ‘Chanti’s World’ was the catalyst for the dispute that led to my being banned. (This is all well documented but no one has ever been interested in the sequence of events that led to my being banned.)

In the one and only conversation I have ever had with Fiona (just prior to her requesting of the Screen Australia caretaker that he call the police and have me arrested! For ‘trespassing’!) she told me, when asked for evidence of my intimidation of her, that she ‘felt’ intimidated. Is this all, in your view, Al and Rosemary, that is required for a filmmaker to be guilty of intimidation? That a member of staff ‘feel’ intimidated? Are you aware of the can of worms you have opened up here? Evidence of actual intimidation is not required. Only that a person ‘feels’ intimidated!

As for Fiona feeling upset and distressed (since she is the only member of SA staff to whom this assertion of Graeme’s could apply) let me respond to this by reversing the roles that Fiona and I find ourselves in:

Let’s say that Screen Australia, after four years of my asking, did actually produce three examples from my correspondence in which any reasonable person would draw the conclusion that I had intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. Let’s imagine that Screen Australia chose to make this evidence public, as it should, if such evidence exists. I would, as a result, be revealed, in public, in the eyes of my professional colleagues, to be a fraud. It would be apparent that I had been playing fast and loose with the truth in asserting this past four years that I was not guilty as charged. Being publicly shamed in this way would certainly lead to my being upset and distressed. It may even lead me to feel that I had been personally attacked by Screen Australia. Would I then be able to lay responsibility for my being upset, being distressed, at the feet of Screen Australia? Or would I have to accept that I was the author of my own pain and distress?

Neither Fiona nor myself can claim our feelings of pain and distress to be evidence that we have in some way been wronged. We must both accept that actions (including lying) have consequences for which we alone are responsible. I am sure that it is painful and upsetting for Fiona to read in public fora (my blog) that she plays fast and loose with the truth. Her response should not to reach for her handkerchief and play the damsel in distress but to come out fighting and produce evidence, from my correspondence, that it is me and not she who plays fast and loose with the truth. Fight me with facts, with evidence; not with appeals to female fragility – “you have hurt my feelings!” (It seems to me that all too often the modern day female bureaucrat can play hardball as well as any man but, when it suits, reach for their handkerchief, shed some tears and rely on their male counter-parts to come to their rescue!)

As for damaging the reputation of Screen Australia staff (Fiona again), how can Screen Australia make such an assertion with a straight face when your banning of me has not only done severe damage to my reputation but made it close to impossible for me, as an Australian filmmaker, to work in the country of my birth?  Have you, Al and Rosemary, no insight into the absurdity of the position you have taken regarding my reputation? It is OK to trash James Ricketson’s reputation with no evidence at all in support of the need to do so, but Fiona Cameron’s reputation must be protected at all costs!
As you know (or would know if you bothered to look at the sequence of events preceding even Fiona’s playing fast and loose with the truth re my ‘Chanti’s World’ application) what I am guilt of is exercising my right to freedom of speech; my right to be a vocal critic of Screen Australia.

What I was guilty of, one year after Screen Australia was established, wearing my journalist’s hat, was having the temerity to ask questions that Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron did not want to answer. (This is all well documented). And then, when Fiona Cameron’s played fast and loose with the truth re ‘Chanti’s World’, I had the temerity to respond accordingly and not, as was expected, to roll over and accept that Fiona could place on file statements that were untrue and which reflected badly on my character. And then, when I complained to Ruth Harley about Fiona, Ruth handed my complaint about Fiona to Fiona to investigate! And I had the temerity to question the propriety of this!

And now Graeme Mason repeats Fiona Cameron’s lie about ‘Chanti’s World’ secure in the knowledge that there is no-one, no body (the Screen Australia board, the Ombudsman, the Minister for the Arts, the Australian Drector’s Guild) to hold him accountable; that will expect him to base i]his assertion in fats, backed by evidence. And my accusing Graeme of lying, as I am just now will, needless to say, be seen as evidence of the need to continue banning me.

You will not ask Graeme to substantiate his recent claims re ‘Chanti’s World’, will you, Al and Rosemary? No more than your board colleagues in 2012 felt inclined to ask Fiona Cameron to substantiate her claims. Once a lie has been told within Screen Australia the wagons must, of necessity, circle around the person who told the lie and anyone with the temerity to call out a lie for what it is must be punished in whatever way is necessary to maintain the status quo.

And so it goes.

Whilst the last four years of your ban have been distressing to me there is something more important than my own fate at stake here. Screen Australia should not have, in senior management, or on the board, people who believe that the way to deal with critics, with those who ask awkward questions, is to ban them; to destroy their careers. The mind-set within an organization such as Screen Australia that views the banning of a filmmaker as an appropriate response to criticism is not the mind-set required to foster the development of ground-breaking film and TV projects. It is a mind-set that harks back to Soviet block thinking of several decades ago. Particularly in the age in which we live, in which all filmmaking rules have been thrown to the wind with the advent of digital cameras, home-edit suites, You Tube and social media straight-jacket, punitive thinking of the kind Screen Australia indulges is out of step with the times in which we live. Young filmmakers should feel free to challenge senior management, to challenge the board  without the fear that in so doing they could wind up, like myself, banned for exercising their right to free speech. If I were in your position, Al, Rosemary (and Graeme) and some upstart clever young filmmaker were to tell me, politely or not so politely, that my ideas were old hat, redundant, that I was (to use the vernacular of the day) full of shit I would smile to myself and invite them to come and, at the very least, share a coffee with me and expound on their reasons why I am full  of shit. They may be right! Do you want young filmmakers who are compliant, who obey the rules (regardless of how ridiculous they are) or young men and women whose attitude is: “Fuck your rules.”

If you have the courage of your convictions, Al and Rosemary, if you really believe that I am guilty of offenses so heinous that banning me is the only option open to the board, meet with me this week, with Kent Purvis from the office of the Ombudsman in attendance, and lay your evidence on the table – both literally and figuratively. If you have a strong case in support of my guilt, present it. I am back in Australia for one week so if you have any interest at all keeping this matter out of court this is the week to meet with me.

Or if you, like Graeme Mason, you believe that alleged evidence of my guilt must never sees the light of day, let’s sort this out in a court of law in which facts and evidence (and not mere assertions) will reveal just who is playing fast and loose with the truth – myself or Screen Australia? Your choice.

If you decide to go down the ‘court route’ how much, from Screen Australia’s limited pool of precious financial resources, will you, as board members, allow Graeme Mason to spend defending SA’s legal right to withhold from me evidence of my guilt of the charges laid against me? $10,000? $20,000? $50,000

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)
Mr Kent Purvis, Office of the Ombudsman

Kingston Anderson, Australian Director’s Guild.

Graeme Mason
Chief Executive
Screen Australia
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007  

18th July 2016                                                                                     

Dear Graeme

It is a shame that neither you nor members of the Screen Australia Board have availed yourselves of the many opportunities presented to you to resolve this dispute amicably and without the need to involve the Supreme Court. The most recent of these was a week ago, 11th July, when I issued an invitation to the Screen Australia Board to meet with me whilst I was in Sydney for a week.

As with all such invitations on my part this past four years, this one was ignored. Screen Australia will not agree to any meeting with myself in which evidence of my guilt will be, literally and metaphorically, on the table. The reason? Because there is no evidence. You know this.

It is a great shame that the Minister for the Arts does not believe Screen Australia to be under any obligation to provide me with evidence that I am guilty of intimidating or placing at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. The mere assertion of my guilt is enough for Senator Fifield to agree, no questions asked, to the termination of the career of an Australian filmmaker – if, that is, Caroline Fulton has even brought this matter to the Minister’s attention?

And it is a great shame that the Commonwealth Ombudsman, to date, has shown no interest in evidence of my guilt (or innocence) and certainly no interest in getting all parties involved in the same room for a meeting in which a fair and amicable resolution could be arrived at based on evidence; on facts. My multiple attempts to facilitate such a meeting,  over a period of four years, have been ignored.

In your capacity as Chief Executive you too could have arranged for such a meeting to take place – as I suggested to you in the first weeks of your new job. You clearly do not see conciliation as part of your job. No, in this matter, you see your job as repeating tired lies about ‘Chanti’s World’ in the hope that by sheer repetition they will become true. You have decided to defend Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron at all costs and with no respect for either facts or evidence. Rather than presenting me with evidence of the offences Screen Australia alleges have led to my being banned (for six years now!) you have sought to override both the letter and the spirit of FOI legislation by banning me from making FOI requests to obtain this evidence. Jane Supit, Head of Legal, has not had the professional courtesy to even acknowledge receipt of my letters regarding FOI!

I will lodge a complaint about my being banned from making FOI requests with the Information Commissioner. In the meantime, and with much reluctance, I will now set in motion legal action against Screen Australia with a view to obtaining the evidence you are so keen to withhold.  

If this matter does result in a Statement of Claim in the Supreme Court (as seems certain, given yours and the Screen Australia board’s intransigence) I wonder how much money Screen Australia will expend arguing its legal right to withhold from me evidence of the offences that have led to Screen Australia’s ongoing two year bans? As you know, these bans make it close to impossible for me to make films in this country?

And you go along with this nonsense, Graeme!


James Ricketson