Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday, Eithne Shortall discussed whether in a small country we should be sacrificing the knowledge of some of the country’s best for the ‘appearance of transparency.’
Allegations of conflict of interest have focused on the Arts Council but as Eithne pointed out, three film board members, Katie Holly, John Rice and Kirsten Sheridan received funding while seated on the film board.
According to the article, Irish Film Board guidelines on avoiding conflicts of interest include members leaving the room when they have applied for funding for their own projects.
Discussion of this subject is difficult for filmmakers. Nobody wants to be seen as resenting other filmmakers. Others fear offending those who may, or may not have an adverse affect on their careers – it’s a very small world in Ireland.
This is understandable but should not prevent discussion of something that is problematic. Any funding organisation whose board members are themselves awarded funding is vulnerable to claims of conflict of interest.
THE APPEARANCE OF TRANSPARENCY
Surely a publicly funded organization should be transparent and if not then the very least we should expect is that it aims for transparency and not the ‘appearance of transparency.’
My suggestion would be to make the initial submissions process anonymous. Those applying for development funding should be given a number. Their names should not be revealed to script readers. This is already the case in many competitive arenas and seems a fair way to implement an initial layer of transparency and avoid conflict of interest problems.
I also suggest that the board membership could change more frequently and checks should be made to ensure no two (or more) members are involved in partnerships, or in collaboration with each other, or each other’s companies.
I am of course aware that there is room for improvement and development on these ideas, however I think this issue has been the elephant in the room for long enough. Right now the air in Ireland is thick with allegations of conflict of interest and worse, so there is never going to be a better time for any organisation to be transparent than right now.