One Rogue Reporter among the shows exploring journalistic ethics at Fringe 2012
Ex-Daily Star hack Richard Peppiatt lifts the lid on journalism
This article is from 2012.
It’s not at all surprising that this year’s Fringe programme should feature a cluster of shows about the purveyors of low-quality ‘reportage’ commonly and derogatively referred to as ‘hacks’. The high-profile and ongoing Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the beleaguered British press was set up as a response to the News International phone hacking scandal, which has showcased some of the most notorious acts perpetrated by hacks in the name of their profession.
Among the Fringe shows capitalising on the current headline news about the headline newsmakers there is Journos, which dramatises the working lives of a team of hacks employed at a fictional regional newspaper named The Daily Parade, and Life is Too Good to Be True, which touches on the story of Stephen Glass, the former US journalist whose articles for venerable arts and politics magazine the New Statesman proved to be entirely fabricated. It is, however, One Rogue Reporter, a one-man stand-up comedy/theatre performance in which a real ex-hack lifts the lid on his profession, that promises to be the most timely show at the Fringe this year.
‘That was the point,’ says Richard Peppiatt, the tabloid reporter-turned-campaigner for press reform who makes his Fringe debut with One Rogue Reporter. ‘If you’re going to do a show about the tabloid press, now is the time with the Leveson Inquiry. But the show is going one step further: it’s stuff that would never be discussed in the Leveson Inquiry, because it would be too salacious. It will touch a nerve in the industry. In fact,’ Peppiatt says, ‘I know it’s already wound some people up.’
Peppiatt quit his job at the Daily Star in March 2011. He wrote a sensational letter to his boss, proprietor Richard Desmond, and he accused the red top newspaper of race hatemongering and anti-Muslim propaganda. Peppiatt had evidently already had enough of his job, which required him to invent ‘news’ stories, a practice, he has said, was sanctioned by the management. Subsequently, he appeared at the Leveson Inquiry, where he said he believed his voicemail had been hacked by someone working in collusion with his former employer. Since then, the former hack has appeared on television and radio as an advocate for press reform in the UK.
Ironically, it was being told to shut his mouth that made Peppiatt open it. ‘When I left the Daily Star I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my mouth shut,’ Peppiatt says. ‘That was like red rag to a bull. The tabloids go on about their right to freedom of expression, but they only believe in freedom of expression for themselves.’
With One Rogue Reporter, Peppiatt has taken freedom of expression to the extreme. It’s a mix of stand-up banter drawn from his own experiences at the Star and those at the Leveson Inquiry and also video footage of a series of stunts staged by Peppiatt that targeted tabloid editors past and present and exposed them to their newspapers’ own worst privacy-invasion practices.
‘All this talk by tabloid editors about their role in puncturing the pomposity of the powerful,’ Peppiatt says. ‘There are few people more powerful than these people. The pomposity they show means that they are the ones that need to get punctured. So I set out to turn the tables on these people. I’m using the skills they taught me against them, from finding out where people live to following them around for weeks and sitting on their doorsteps. It is a bit Frankenstein-esque.
‘There are,’ Peppiatt promises, ‘some very big figures who get their pants well and truly pulled down.’
One Rogue Reporter, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 4–27 Aug (not 14), 5pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8–£9). Previews until 3 Aug, £5.
Life is Too Good to Be True, Underbelly Cowgate, 0844 545 8252, 4–13 Aug, 11.35am, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £6.
Journos, theSpace@Surgeons Hall, 0845 508 8515, 20–25 Aug, 3.05pm, £6.50 (£4.50);