Lionel Morrison OBE speaks about racial discrimination within journalism

Lionel Morrison at the NUJ Delegate Meeting at Southport in 2011 (Photograph: Oscar Webb)

Of approximately 160 NUJ members who attended the Delegate Meeting in 2011 about half a dozen – 3 to 4% – were black. And of approximately 38,000 members of the NUJ, 1,000 are black – about 2.6%. For Lionel Morrison this is a disgrace.

The number of black people in the media, as a proportion of black people in the total British population is “very, very, very low” and “we need to do something about this” says Lionel.

Fighting for black journalists

Lionel’s whole working life has been devoted to increasing participation of black people in journalism and unionism across the world.

In South Africa in the 1950s Lionel fought against the system of apartheid by helping set up a multi-racial Journalist union. He was arrested for his work in 1956 on a charge of treason.

In 1960 he managed to leave South Africa for Britain. And has since been working in this country with the NUJ, recruiting black members and providing training and support for them.

Tackling discrimination in Britain

Racial discrimination in Britain in the 1970s prevented many black journalists from getting jobs. Lionel applied for over 150 jobs in the 70s and was “constantly” refused when the newspaper found out he was black.

His experience of the difficulty of entering the journalistic profession as a black man led him to help set up some of the first black newspapers in Britain such as The Voice and The West Indian World.

These local papers gave black journalists the training and experience that helped them secure jobs with larger, national newspapers.

Through the NUJ Lionel also helped to establish subsidised training courses for black journalists across London that proved so popular that they were eventually opened up to white journalists as well.

Continuing the struggle

“The same reasons; the same excuses” are used now, as they were before to deny black journalists jobs. Media organisations claim a lack of training and experience is why black journalists occupy a tiny proportion of those working in the industry.

Lionel Morrison speaking at the NUJ Delegate Meeting in Southport 2011 (Ingrid Bousquet)

Lionel still feels passionately that the NUJ has a huge role to play in increasing the proportion of black people within journalism. He believes one way of achieving this is by continuing to offer training for black journalists.

Lionel has written a book chronicling the struggle black journalists have faced over the past century in this country.

Lionel was the first black president of the NUJ. He is an honorary member and a life member of the NUJ. He was given an OBE in 2000 for his lifetime’s work.

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  1. NUJ delegate meeting 2011: Dear bows out, NUJ votes not to destroy itself, attack on unpaid internships… | The Wire | Press Gazette says:

    [...] The low number of black journalists at the delegate meeting and across the media was branded a disgrace. [...]

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