Former tabloid journalist Richard Peppiatt has worked for a number of red top papers. After spending two years at The Daily Star, he left last year due to what he calls “deeply irresponsible coverage of Islam”. He quit The Daily Star in a rather public way and, upon leaving his post, The Guardian published Peppiatt’s letter to The Daily Star’s proprietor, Richard Desmond. In the letter Peppiatt spoke of the paper’s “endemic lack of self-perception” and the “backbone” he discovered before leaving. I met Richard in his Highbury home and asked him what it was like to work for the popular tabloid newspaper and what he thinks about The Alternative Leveson.
Yasmin: As a reporter at The Daily Star you donned everything from a burka to a John Lennon outfit in order to get a story. Is that part and parcel of being a tabloid reporter?
Richard: My main complaint was the blatant Islamophobia at the paper. It wasn’t something new but it got completely out of control. I wanted to raise awareness and certainly didn’t want toplay a part in it anymore. A lot of the staff were unhappy at the coverage of Islam yet they continued to put these stories together, even if it didn’t reflect the facts and figures behind them. It had more to do with finding the facts that fitted within the narrative.
Yasmin: Did it feel like journalism?
Richard: It didn’t feel like journalism, it felt like propaganda, going out with a certain story in mind; Muslims taking over the country, threat to security, a threat to our industry, little things can grow and can have bigger consequences. Some of the stories I was involved in writing could trigger real world violence. People could get killed.
Since 9/11 and a greater extent 7/7 Muslims became the convenient bad guy. Social issues were pinpointed towards Muslims. They were distractionary stories avoiding the serious social issues we as a country were facing. I’d call the right people to get the right answers for the story we wanted. Brilliant headlines to sell papers, tabloids aren’t truth-driven they are all about making a splash. Being told to misrepresent stories isn’t something exclusive to tabloids. As a journalist you are under a lot of pressure to just do what you are told.
Yasmin: Was it difficult to speak up?
Richard: It is difficult, it’s a very small industry; if you make too much noise they can just get rid of you. Very few journalists are prepared to speak publicly about anything to do with their papers. Hardly any journalists came forward at The Leveson but the NUJ says it has dozens of anonymous cases of bullying and intimidation.
Yasmin: What do you think about The Leveson Inquiry and the upcoming Alternative Leveson Inquiry?
Richard: Lord Justice Leveson is doing a great job but what’s been raised on media coverage of Muslims is only a small glance at what is a huge issue. Phone hacking is awful, illegal and unethical but when you look at coverage of Muslims in Britain it is a bigger, more challenging and more damaging issue to us as a society. Newspapers have a lot of power to shape people’s perceptions. The narratives that they create can turn people to prejudicial thinking. Appealing to the mob is what’s going to get people most worked up but it is deeply irresponsible to use Islam and Muslims as fodder just to sell newspapers. We are a multicultural country and most people are proud of that.
The Alternative Leveson Inquiry is a step forward to dig down to these issues. When you have the likes of Hugh Whitto and Dawn Neesen saying they have no negativity towards Islam and that they have a balanced and fair news agenda then I’m sure they will have no problem attending The Alternative Leveson Inquiry and explaining what’s behind some of the decisive and sensationalist headlines that they print in their newspapers.
Richard Peppiatt is a freelance journalist and writer who regularly lectures on the media. The full video interview will be uploaded shortly.
Yasmin Khatun for The Alternative Leveson Inquiry
Leave a comment
- RT @mediaguardian: #Leveson's distinction between web and print news 'will undermine regulation': http://t.co/5WSUgcg1
- RT @HEEDLINES: No cultural diverity in case studies in culture and ethics sect. of #Leveson report. We need an alternative inquiry @AltL ...
- RT @HEEDLINES: Less than 15% have 'quite a lot' of confidence in press. Under 5% have 'a great deal'. http://t.co/sBa5xsIM @altleveson ...