Please release me...

WHILE keeping a low profile as a freelance can seriously hinder getting new work, readers should beware the perils of an invitation to appear on TV. Branch committee member Angus Batey received an invitation, via the publishers of his book on rap group the Beastie Boys, to appear on a TV series on banned music. It was to be made by independent production company Blackwatch TV for Channel 4.

After shifting his work schedule around to accommodate their filming, Angus asked Blackwatch if he would be expected to sign a release form, and if so, to please have the text of it sent to him before the interview took place. The form arrived by email less than two working days before the interview. It included a clause which indemnified Blackwatch against any future claim for libel, whether justified or not, making fighting any such case the responsibility of the interviewee.

The release also ensured that Blackwatch would own all rights in the interviewee's contributions - which would mean Angus would have no "moral right" to object to harmful changes. This made it possible for Blackwatch's editing to "create" a libel in an interview that didn't exist in the transcript - and signing the release form meant that would be Angus's problem, not Blackwatch's, or Channel 4's.

After he'd brought the unacceptable nature of this "agreement" to Blackwatch's attention, the company cancelled Angus's interview. Reluctantly, after some persuasion, they paid the £150 fee they had agreed. But during the discussions, the company claimed that the contract was a standard one, agreed by other entertainment unions, and could not be changed except by Channel 4. And they also listed several high-profile interviewees who had signed up, apparently happy at the document's contents.

Initial approaches to the Federation of Entertainment Unions suggest that it is news to them that the waiver is "standard". The document will be on the agenda of NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear's next meeting with his FEU opposite numbers.

At least one of Blackwatch's happy signees turned out to be nothing of the kind. NUJ member Tony Benn - who we understand was only presented with the release form at the time of his interview - has subsequently used this tale as an example of why everyone should join a trades union.

The fact that someone as experienced as Benn undoubtedly is at dealing with the media could have been put at this kind of risk simply underlines the continued need to be vigilant, particularly when those seeking your signature will pass their documents off as "just a formality". This particular "formality" could have ruinous implications for the sole trader freelance.

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