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L.A. Film Critics Assn. refuses our request for an interview — again

January 12, 2009 |  7:13 pm

Just like last year, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. — which bestows its awards at a banquet today — has refused our request to interview its leaders. That leads me to ask: Is it appropriate for journalists to refuse to answer other journalists questioning their procedures?

I inquired about the group's refusal to credential certain journalists to cover its awards show, which is standard operating procedure at equivalent kudofests. Over the past week, for example, TheEnvelope.com was granted press passes to cover the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.'s Critics Choice Awards and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s Golden Globes. I have questions about the validity of a media group closing its doors to media wishing to cover its media awards.

Los_angeles_film_critics_associatio

The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. does permit journalists to cover its awards ceremony, but only if they belong to the group or are personal guests of members. That seems quite dubious, frankly, as it could give rise to a sense that this media group wishes only friendly media to cover its activity.

"This is how the L.A. Film Critics choose to organize their dinner, and how they always have organized it," a PR rep for LAFCA replied when I requested an interview. "There is no issue here as far as the organization is concerned and really no need for further discussion."

Last year, LAFCA President Lael Loewenstein talked to me when I had general questions, but shortly afterward, when serious charges against the group were made by past member Jack Mathews, former film critic of the Los Angeles Times, Loewenstein refused to address the matter. Mathews questioned the credentials of some members, noting that LAFCA does not require them to verify that they're still active in film criticism. If members aren't qualified, they shouldn't be permitted to vote, Matthews maintains. 

Historically, that's been a serious problem within other groups of film journalists that bestow awards. They were reluctant to boot out colleague pals who really shouldn't belong anymore. Years ago, when Mathews got really riled up about this issue, he fumed in The Times that LAFCA has membership standards "only slightly higher than the Hertz No. 1 Club."

Back in the 1980s, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's refusal to police its members was one of the chief reasons the Golden Globes were booted off broadcast TV. Afterward, it set up an internal committee to monitor members' press clippings. All members now must reach a quota or they're not permitted to vote on awards. A few years ago the Broadcast Film Critics Association also set up internal monitoring, which resulted in many members no longer being able to vote on the Critics' Choice Awards. Such monitoring isn't necessary at the New York Film Critics Circle, which requires members to have staff jobs as critics. When a member loses their job, they must exit the circle, simple as that. Most members of LAFCA are freelancers, so monitoring should occur.

All of these matters come down to the same thing: LAFCA does not wish to be accountable. It will not be accountable to an awards journalist like me who has questions to pose, and it will not be accountable for the current qualification of members.

LAFCA presents itself as a serious stop on the awards circuit, but if it wants to be considered an equal to other critics' kudos, it needs to understand that transparency is the key to legitimacy for an awards show.

Photo: LAFCA


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