Have I got news for you
In 2011, British tabloid journalist Richard Peppiatt resigned from the Daily Star newspaper in very public fashion (read it here). In an open letter to his boss Richard Desmond, the disillusioned hack accused the Star of “hate-mongering”, said the paper had an anti-Muslim agenda and told Mr Desmond there was a “cascade of shit pirouetting from your penthouse”. Not happy then – and, as celebrities, politicians and ordinary people unlucky enough to be in the news know, a tabloid journalist is a dangerous enemy.
His documentary film One Rogue Reporter, follows Peppiatt as he gives Fleet Street editors the “tabloid treatment” – and boy does he dish it out. From trying to improve the sex life of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre to an extraordinary interview with ex-Sun boss Kelvin MacKenzie, it’s as funny as it is uncomfortable. If you struggle with cringe comedy like Borat or The Inbetweeners you might have to cover your eyes – but if you keep watching you’ll get to see the penis of former News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck. What a treat!
Keen to present the sometimes dry topic matter of press regulation in an entertaining way, One Rogue Reporter lives and dies on the engaging central character. In this case Peppiatt himself is engaging, likable, bold and a bit scruffy. Exactly what a stereotypical journalist should be. With linking segues that are reminiscent of TV shows like Spaced and The Green Wing, he cleverly presents the facts of the fallout of the News of the World inquiry in a light entertainment manner. Exactly what a tabloid journalist should do.
There are lots of laughs, notably the highlights of Peppiatt’s Daily Star career which include a Santa costume, a burka and transvestitism. But crucially the film deals with a serious question – how should the press be regulated? For this it calls on journalists, high-profile campaigners like Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, AC Grayling and a host of others. It also takes clips from the Leveson Inquiry into the press, including some almost unbelievable comments from tabloid editors.
What is truly fascinating is the misreporting of the results of the Leveson Inquiry by the big tabloid newspapers. As always with the villain of a piece, they hide their agenda within the argument for freedom and public interest and rather than ˜finding a story’ they go get the story they want.
Most notable of the reviews so far is The Times, who referred to it as ˜jejune’ as in lacking in substance. It’s an understandable comment when you see a dildo standing on the doorstep of the editor of The Daily Mail, but it is also missing the point. A more serious or ˜worthy’ documentary wouldn’t flirt with controversy in this manner, but One Rogue Reporter is trying to reach out to a wider market than people who already agree with its point of view. It’s going after the millions of people that buy tabloids in hopes that by engaging them in the same way as their papers do, it might convince a few more people to stop the cycle of fear-mongering and sensationalism. Only time will tell if it succeeds.
There are other faults, noticeably needing both more content and a brutal edit (appropriately enough) and a little more time on the Leveson Inquiry would project it into the territory of more mainstream documentaries. As it is though, the subject matter and the presentation keep you enthralled from beginning to end.