The Fringe is a fantastic platform for comedy and experimental theatre. Sometimes however, it can provide a platform for something much more controversial: the truth. One Rogue Reporter – one of the most talked about shows of this year – is a confessional piece by Richard Peppiatt, a former reporter for The Daily Star, best known for making claims of Islamophobia against his former employers in his resignation letter (which he leaked to The Guardian, who published it) as well as recently giving evidence in the Leveson enquiry.
Since then, Peppiatt has been very busy working as a media commentator, giving talks to universities and writing the occasional article for newspapers. Now he’s brought a show to the Edinburgh Fringe as part of his crusade against the ethical issues still rife in today’s newspapers. I reviewed the show prior to giving the interview, and I found it to be one of the most intriguing shows of the Fringe, not least because it strikes me as a show full of contradictions. One Rogue Reporter presents us with a man who is admirably trying to expose the corruption rife in the newspaper industry, but is doing it in a way that is equally as morally corrupt: the show often flaunts Peppiat’s own invasions of privacy, and features a video starring a newspaper exec fully naked and in an unsavoury position. Peppiatt points out a lot of bad journalism and misleading articles in his show – but (and he will readily admit this) if you do a quick Google search you’ll find a lot of misleading and unsavoury headlines that he has contributed to. One Rogue Reporter is one of the most intriguing shows of the Fringe, largely because in Peppiatt it boasts one of its most intriguing performers..
Upon meeting Peppiatt he instantly insisted on buying me an overpriced energy drink – it was apparent that the direct, no frills approach of his show is an accurate reflection of his offstage character. It soon became clear that he wasn’t going to hold back – ten minutes into the interview and he was freely admitting his show is about ‘’vengeance’’ against the newspaper execs. One of his main gripes with the media, he says, is the invasion of privacy: ‘’The invasion of privacy is not about journalism, it’s about entertainment. It’s about exposing things that really aren’t relevant, and isn’t the business of other people’’. It serves as the focal point of Peppiatt’s show, which he hopes will give newspaper execs a taste of their own medicine. ‘’How do you feel when your private life is put out there, How do you feel when your cock is being shown to an audience?’’. It’s an extreme way to draw focus onto the ethical issues in our media industry and even Peppiatt admits that his approach is problematic: ‘’It’s not very nice and obviously they hate it. It doesn’t make what I’m doing right, but I think it’s necessary’’.
Peppiatt is an extremely likeable character, but there’s no doubt that his show is ethically dubious, regardless of what his targets may have done. When you are reminded that these men are still running a newspaper industry that thrives on unethical journalism, however, you can’t help but feel yourself beginning to side with him.
Frequent self deprecation plays a part – ”I’m still a wrong ‘un, but I’m pointing the right way’’ he laughs – and serves as his way of avoiding being preachy: “Nobody wants to be lectured by a former Daily Star journalist and pay for the privilege”, he tells me. I find it hard to believe that Peppiatt is as bad as he makes out: he may have written unsavoury articles in the past, but perhaps we can chalk them up to – as he says – “some bad decisions”.
When I ask whether he’d advise anyone against going into journalism he’s surprisingly positive: “All I say to people is don’t make some of the decisions I made, you’ve got to be true to yourself and stand up for yourself in a way that I for a long time didn’t. It’s hard work , it’s shit pay and difficult to make a decent living out of, but if you’ve got that passion then of course people should go into it’’.
As the interview comes to a close, I find that my initial impression of Peppiatt was accurate: he is intriguing and controversial, but incredibly likeable. As to the question of whether his show is morally correct, it is entirely dependent on your thoughts on the media industry and what constitues ‘vengeance’. I find that I’m still on the fence.
To finish I ask a clichéd question that I hope will allow us to end a light hearted note: ’Why should people come and see your show?’’. At first Peppiatt keeps a straight face and gives me a serious answer: “It’s important we all have an understanding of what we think is acceptable when it comes to privacy, public interest and what the role of the media should be’’. Suddenly the tabloid journalist in him kicks and he just can’t help himself:”Also, you get to see penises and boobs and you’ll laugh’’.
And with that, the one man media warrior goes to prepare for battle