Make sure those 15 minutes don't haunt you for a lifetime

20th October 2000 at 01:00
IF you watched the fly-on-the-wall BBC2 documentary Head on the Block - the story of the relaunch under Fresh Start of the Islington Arts and Media School - you may have marvelled

at the courage or

madness of the


I was once on the board of directors of the Royal Opera House which welcomed in BBC cameras to film The House, and I know all too well how easy it is to be seduced by noble thoughts of public accountability, and the chance for some free publicity.

It is important to remember that TV companies' priorities are not the school's. They are looking for drama and tension, not opportunities to celebrate your many achievements.

Nevertheless, the director should still stick to the TV producer's guidelines on fairness and impartiality. And if you are appalled by what finally appears on the screen you can always sue for defamation, or breach of contract, so long as you are not too sanguine. TV companies are wily enough to ensure that the programmes are sufficiently close to "the truth". And, in any case, once the programme is screened the damage is done.

Far better, then, tobuild into the contract at the outset as many restrictions as you can. The producer will be keen to get into the school, and cannot do so until the governors have given permission. Negotiation is always possible.

You can insist on the right to refuse access to parts of the school at certain times and for certain activities. Some staff, pupils and parents may have withheld their permission to be filmed, and account must be taken of this.

If the crew then film in areas which are out of bounds, they can be stopped, but not if this has not been inserted in the


And although producers will insist on editorial freedom, you can demand a preview before the screening. At this point you could try negotiating changes while waving a copy of the BBC Fairness and Privacy Code or the Independent Television Commission's programme code.

If these ploys do not succeed and you remain aggrieved, the governors can complain to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission or the Independent Television Commission.

Or you can remember what has happened to all your predecessors and opt for a quiet life!

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