Tom Rothman, the co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, yesterday denied that the MPAA has reached any conclusion on the screener ban which has divided Hollywood.

Addressing the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) before a screening of his studio’s big Oscar hope Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, Rothman said that yesterday’s reports that the MPAA has decided to single out the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as the only body to receive screener tapes were premature.

Rothman, generally seen within Hollywood as an architect of the screener ban, told the HFPA that nothing had yet been decided although he offered no assurances to the contrary.

In fact, the rumoured MPAA move, which would see screener tapes going out only to the 5,000 or so voting members of the Academy had the HFPA and other non-Academy awards bodies and critics groups bubbling with anger at the prospect that the studios were planning to exclude them. The HFPA is planning to formulate strategy today (Wednesday).

Meanwhile in a linked development yesterday the New York Film Critics Association said it was not planning to follow the example of its Los Angeles counterparts and cancel this year’s awards should the screener ban remain in place.

The MPAA move, which could materialise by the end of the week, follows two weeks of covert negotiations between MPAA president Jack Valenti and the seven US majors and is certain to further fan the flames of the industry’s most controversial talking point.

Sources linked to the negotiations told that if the move does go ahead it would most likely be for a one-year trial period with Academy members being asked to sign an anti-piracy pledge and face possible expulsion if their screener tapes leak out.

The rumour surfaced in an LAdaily yesterday and comes hot on the heels of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s threat a day earlier to cancel its annual awards in December unless the screener ban is completely rescinded.

That statement sparked confusion and irritation in the industry, with some arguing that full-time critics who are not saddled with extraneous film-making commitments ought to findthe time to attend theatrical screenings.

“Though the New York Film Critics Circle is opposed to the MPAA screener ban, the group does not plan to withhold its awards for 2003 in protest,” read a statement released yesterday through that body’s spokesperson Donna Daniels.

Spokespeople for the MPAA and Academy declined to comment for this story, however it is understood the Writers Guild of America will issue a statement possibly today (22) or later this week.