The media 'can be constructive'

In his fascinating account of media coverage of The Ridings school ("To hell and back", TES Friday magazine, October 16 ), Peter Clark writes of the "unfair" impact made by the television pictures of pupils giving "V-signs". Your own editorial talks of the need for newspapers and television to "act more responsibly".

May I add some facts which I believe are pertinent. Mr Clark makes it clear that it was a magazine photographer not a television reporter or camera operator who allegedly urged the pupils to "flick some Vs". He also acknowledges that it was just chance that the pictures were recorded by television cameras. Mr Clark was not there himself but bases his claims on what he was told later by pupils.

I was not there either but I did use the pictures in a news report. At BBC News, we debated long and hard whether or not to use the images. We checked with the BBC reporter - a very experienced education specialist - who was present. She assured us that no one had urged the pupils to misbehave.

If we had believed that anyone had urged the pupils to act up for the cameras we would not have used the pictures. In fact, when my cameras are in a classroom the pupils' behaviour is usually very good because I make clear to the class that anyone misbehaving will not appear on the telly. That's usually incentive enough.

At BBC News we do take our role responsibly. It is never pleasant to show unflattering pictures of schools. Without access being permitted to The Ridings, the media was forced to take pictures from the street (the hard reality is that you cannot cover a story without pictures - and this was an important issue). I suspect one shot of pupils giving V signs was hardly an exaggeration compared with the incidents described by the Office for Standards in Education.

Some time afterwards, when Mr Clark had taken over, he bravely - and wisely - allowed cameras inside the school where he had some control over them.

The images of the school on this occasion were very positive indeed, showing that when given the chance the media can be constructive. I would be the first to admit that some media coverage of schools makes me embarrassed to be a journalist.

But it is as easy to knock "the media" as it is to knock teachers. We should all recognise that generalisations are best avoided.

Mike Baker. Education correspondent. BBC News. London W12

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