'Never ever sign copy deals,' says freelance in singer row

Lewis: wanted copy approval

Freelance showbiz reporter Garth Pearce refused to sign an agreement before interviewing former All Saints singer Shaznay Lewis which would have severely restricted the use of his copy and made him liable for some costs.

Pearce, who has had several battles with stars seeking control of interviews, was astonished to hear this time that both The Sunday Telegraph and The Observer had signed similar agreements and, in The Observer’s case, also guaranteed copy approval.

"What concerns me is that anyone would sign the damn thing," said Pearce, who told PR Charles McDonald of McDonald and Rutter and the singer’s Bamn management team that he would not sign.

Both told him that the two national Sundays had signed agreements, though McDonald would not comment when contacted by Press Gazette.

"I told them, ‘I’ve never signed anything in 20 years. I never give copy approval. If your client is grown-up and wants a proper conversation, then fine.’" he said.

The interview, for The Sunday Times Culture section, did take place, Pearce explained "without me signing anything – no deals, no copy approval. But if people keep signing these things, then each time it gets more difficult and the barriers are greater if it comes to some sort of dispute. The people to blame are the journalists who are signing these things."

John Mulholland, joint deputy editor of The Observer, confirmed that the paper had signed an agreement, including copy approval, for a feature on Lewis. But only because the piece was likely to be uncontroversial.

"None of the journalists on the magazine felt compromised by signing this silly piece of paper," he said, adding: "But our advice to anybody who signs anything like that is to utterly disregard it if it gets in the way of doing the piece that you want to do, even if that means retrospectively breaking an agreement with some tinpot PR agency.

"We would never, ever suggest to journalists that they followed through the contract. I’d happily break it just as quickly as I’d sign it."

And was he happy about copy approval? "It might have been in the piece of paper we signed but we would never have shown it to them," he rejoined.

The Sunday Telegraph Magazine signed part of the agreement but crossed out the clause on copy approval. Commissioning editor David Jenkins told Press Gazette that, while the the rest of the agreement was "standard", the newspaper would never accept copy approval.

"The Sunday Telegraph Magazine’s policy is, whenever such a request is brought up by any agent anywhere, that neither the Pope, nor the Prime Minister nor anyone else gets copy approval," he asserted.


By Jean Morgan

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