“To me , journalism is about telling people they don’t know, it’s to enlighten.”
Walking into another lunchtime lecture, I was definitely not expecting a reporter talking about going undercover in a burka, showing off his amazingly bad headlines that he has made during his career or a heated argument between him and one of the teachers, where he slammed the Daily Star, in which the professor currently works at – but boy, was it a good one-hour lecture.
Richard Peppiatt, well-known for his resignation letter to the Daily Star , came to talk to the journalism students at Kingston University about why he wrote the letter, what he disliked so much about working with the Daily Star, and what needs to change in popular press.
Peppiatt started the hour with a showcase of, if I may say so myself (and I think he would agree), ridiculous headlines in which came from major newspapers, including headlines such as “Telly King Cowell Is Dead” (he only resigned from the X factor), “Salt Banned In Chips Shop” (they just put it behind the counter”, and the headline that made him resign from the Daily Star, “BBC Put Muslims Before YOU!”.
For Peppiatt, the issue of how muslims and Islam is presented in British media was what made him quit the Daily Star, as well as was what made him question the popular press and how they have in many ways left the idea of enlightening people and instead use their papers to – in his own words – promote fear.
Peppiatt defined to us the word propaganda – “Information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, influencing people’s opinions” -and made an emphasis on the fact that British publications had a tendency of forcing onto people headlines and articles which to some extent could possibly be defined as propaganda, as the pressure to sell newspapers has grown extensively over the years.
” Do people really believe everything they read in papers? Might not, but it still influences people.”
During his time at the Daily Star, Peppiatt was at one point forced to go undercover and wear a Burka as part of an article he wrote – a ridiculous “mission” for a man first and foremost, more so a job he found both embarrassing and degrading towards women and muslims. During his time at the Daily Star, he felt many of the headlines and articles there were all part of the “negative agenda” which so many newspapers search for during these times – newspapers shy away from enlightening and stay more focused on creating fear in people.
Many a headline in the British press put the emphasis on people from different cultures and how they differ from the “average British population” – something which Peppiatt found both disgusting, as well as a truth he felt most people turned their heads to.
With headlines in the popular press like “Spitting Beardies” (about protestors being disrespectful to soldiers), Peppiatt emphasized on the fact that the British press in many ways were just as bad as the people they tried to condemn – and the muslim/British subject is one many a journalist in Britain take advantage of to sell papers.
After his talk on the anti-muslim, fear-spreading propaganda talk, students were pleased as a debate began between him and one professor who works at Daily Star, discussing whether or not Daily Star did in fact have an anti-muslim agenda, and if muslims since 9/11 can be easily used as scapegoats in today’s press. The professor, of course, disagreed.
“It’s not journalism – it’s storytelling”
When talking about journalism, Peppiatt defined the two forms of truth; the moral (what is right/balanced way of presenting the truth), and the legalistic truth – what can I get away with writing?
And according to Peppiatt, it was no question which of the two tabloids put first. He went from talking about the anti-muslim agenda in which so many British newspapers seem to follow to talking about a related subject, people’s privacy, and what’s morally right, taking the example of Mr Jeffreis, accused of being a pervert by newspapers; if something’s repeated over and over again, even if it’s false…doesn’t it in the end seem right?
He took a moment to talk directly to us as students, and wanting us to think about everything he had been talking about,as well as what you should put up with as a journalist.
“The good thing about being a journalism student right now? Change Newspapers argue over the right to have free speech, and use this to justify what they’re doing. I am behind them, however, people also have a right to privacy, which is not less important than free speech. Newspapers want to trample over people like Jeffreis, but still be protected, they want it all on their terms.”
He lowered his voice and told us all to be proud. Be proud of out work, and not do what he used to do. He wanted us to take a look at what we’ve written in a couple of years, and be proud of everything, and not just a few of the many articles we will all write in the time to come.
People are afraid, and the tabloids use that for all it can be used for. You have to dare to be different, and go outside the boundaries of “normality” – change, he said, doesn’t come unless you dare to do so.
He also gave us a warning of the butterfly effect – how the impact on one person can change the course of things. (As he also discussed in this article.)
“Small things can have big consequences – a headline can make someone say that’s it.”
Sites on Peppiatt worth checking out:
Richard Peppiatt On The Guardian