What do you ask the journalist who undermines journalism? A man whose frustration at the industry led him to turn both in on it, and it into comedy? Rich Peppiatt is such a man: previously a journalist at the Daily Star, Peppiatt was uncomfortable with the way the paper went about its journalism, especially with much of the allegedly Islamophobic coverage that the paper put out in 2012. So he decided to quit.
Yet being unhappy isn’t enough to quit a job, let alone to leak it to the national press. “It got to the point where I felt that what I was doing was a complete betrayal of my own principals,” Peppiatt says. “I wanted to draw attention to it if I possibly could.”
In early March 2012 Peppiatt leaked his letter of resignation from the Daily Star to the Guardian website, an action which provoked a subsequent storm on Twitter, and several threatening text messages. “I didn’t realise it was going to blow up as it did! But I think that everyone at some point has that fantasy of writing a letter to their boss, and storming out giving them the middle finger.”
However, Peppiatt’s blaze of glory didn’t end here. Fortuitously, the Leveson Inquiry took off about six months later, and Peppiatt had a forum for his frustration. When I ask him about his role in the Leveson he remains indignant, citing a recent issue of the Sun that had several bikini pictures of Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar Pistorius’ murdered girlfriend, plastered all over it. “The media hasn’t really changed. There was certainly a quiet period while the inquiry was going on but it does seem that editors are winning the battle to get the regulation that they want rather that the regulation they deserve”.
When I ask about what the future holds, Peppiatt is not optimistic: “I don’t think you are going to eradicate things like the invasion of privacy. The point is, “What is the right and ethical thing to do?” A lot of what I did at the Daily Star wasn’t even journalism!” He laughs that what most tabloid writers do is finding bikini pictures of celebrities and dotting a few words around them. Peppiatt is serious again though, and claims that a few months on from the Leveson Inquiry little progress has been made, in spite of Lord Leveson’s efforts. “The whole discussion of a free press is rather outdated. Newspapers are businesses; their aim is to make money. Capitalism is based on self-interest, but journalism is based on public interest. Putting the two together is an awkward coupling and self-interest in journalism often tramples public interest.”
It was at this point that Peppiatt turned to comedy. His show, ‘One Rogue Reporter’ is an attempt to counteract some of theaggression that the tabloids have exhibited. In Peppiatt’s own words it is also a reaction to the refusal by those who have brought the industry to the cliff face – the tabloid executives themselves – to play a serious part in the public dialogue over where the line should lie between public interest, privacy, and freedom of speech. ‘One Rogue Reporter’ is clever, then: a mixed media stand up comedy show with a serious political and journalistic message. “People like Paul Baker didn’t like me trying to doorstep them. I hated the hypocrisy of these people; it underpins so much of the industry. I’m proud my show reflects that as I think it’s well overdue”.
So a sort of self-referential political satire, then. Peppiatt laughs and waves away my persistent categorisation: “The show is more than a stand up comedy show. What I wanted it to be about was that, watching the Leveson Inquiry, some of the editors were allowed to get away with these grand proclamations about private interest and freedom of expression when I knew that in real life they didn’t believe them”.
‘One Rogue Reporter’ has toured Edinburgh and is currently touring the country. Peppiatt performed at Hertford College on Sunday, which, when I speak to him, he is apprehensive about. “I’ve never done comedy in the day time before! Normally I have a few pints first.”
The idea of turning a political inquiry about media ethics into a stand up comedy show is quirky, and Rich Peppiatt deals with the concept brilliantly. His topic is niche and personal, he has the self-interest of experience, and the public interest of his highly topical, journalistic theme to his great advantage. Will he ever go back to journalism and writing again? It is unlikely. He hasn’t so much closed doors as slammed them. And rightly so.