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Lionel Morrison, campaigning journalist of the old school

07 November, 2016 — By John Gulliver

AN opponent of South African apartheid, and an old friend, Lionel Morrison – of the old school of journalists – died on Monday at 81.

A tough unrelenting opponent of the Apartheid regime, Lionel was arrested for activism in the 1950s and recounts how he spent five months in a cell with 92 people in a 15 x 45-ft space, like sardines. He was also put on trial with Nelson Mandela. Lionel, who lived in Willesden, eventually had to flee South Africa and worked for the Afro-Asian Journalists’ Association in Indonesia.

When the coup against the Suharto government broke out in the mid-1960s Lionel was caught up the street violence and the massacre of the president’s party.

Then he fled to Peking. He came to England in the late 1960s and I worked under him when he chaired the race committee of the National Union of Journalists. Later, he was elected as the first black president of the NUJ in 1987. During his time in the NUJ he campaigned for “race, gender and equality”.

Even today his aims have been far from fulfilled – many newsrooms in newspaper and TV channels have far too few journalists from ethnic minorities. And while the reporting of race in the mainstream media is far better balanced than in the 1970s a bias can still be found, unfortunately, in too many reports. Behind a genteel exterior Lionel was as tough negotiator who, above all else, encouraged black journalism.


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