Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Gamekeeper turned poacher, or poacher turned gamekeeper? Former tabloid journalist Richard Peppiatt exposes what’s really going on at Britain’s red tops and turns the tables on the editorial glitterati.
Bankers have had something of a square bashing over the past four years so it was hardly surprising when the fourth estate stated to lose interest and set off in pursuit of their next victim. Ironic, then, that it should turn up in their own back yard in the form of a phone hacking scandal purportedly the work of just “one rogue reporter”. That expose precipitated the demise of a bastion of British journalism, the News of the World, but the subsequent investigation by their salivating and, at times sanctimonious broadsheet cousins has revealed systemic abuse rather than just the one bad apple in the barrel.
The phone hacking scandal led to the Leveson inquiry which paraded the sins of the tabloids for all to digest. The sight of newspaper barons openly admitting to Leveson that the story is nearly always more important than the truth might not have surprised many of the audience enthralled with Peppiatt’s revelations but it still comes as a slight shock to hear it from someone who has worked on the inside of this industry.
Peppiatt was an investigative journalist at the Daily Star before resigning in a somewhat spectacular manner in 2011, fed up with an industry that was quite good at handing out the stick, but perhaps not so good at taking the criticism that their overbearing intrusion inevitably attracts. His thesis is that the tabloids are approaching the point of no return, or may have indeed already passed it. Self-regulation of the press has patently failed in their case and most tabloid barons pay little heed to the opinions expressed by the Press Complaints Commission.
Illustrating his points with a multi-media presentation involving film, sound and still clips, his delivery is delightfully droll, laconic and, at times, modestly self-deprecating. Resisting the temptation to become evangelical or didactic in his desire to convey what are serious issues facing the UK printed media industry, he presents his case using empirical evidence, something sadly lacking in most of the papers that his attention focuses on. It’s not all a tale of doom and gloom though – he is quick to point out that there are many examples of newspapers (tabloid and broadsheet) continuing to discharge their prime function of informing and holding institutions to account.
But his courage and willingness to inflict on a series of unsuspecting editors the sort of intrusion that they in turn do not hesitate to employ on whichever individual in (or out of) the limelight that takes their fancy was worth the admission money itself. Hubris is the Achilles heel of a lot of the rich and famous, no more so it appears than in senior executives of the newspaper industry.
Peppiatt tackles a serious subject in an engaging and informative way that makes for a thought-provoking hour of entertainment. Judging by the way his audience engaged with him, they thought so too.