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Black people have not escaped the hacking scandal

CRISIS: Under fire Rupert Murdoch and former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks who resigned over the phone hacking scandal last week

IT WOULD not surprise me if the families of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor had had their mobile phones-hacked.

We now know almost certainly that this is what happened to the black victims of the 7/7 London bombings. When, as the leader of the Anti-Racist Alliance, I helped Doreen and Neville Lawrence set up the Justice for Stephen Lawrence campaign, a couple of black police officers, appalled by the behaviour of their Special Branch colleagues, warned me to be on my guard.

They revealed I was being watched. It explained why there were strange noises on my phone and dodgy things happening to my post.

TARGET

Perhaps worse than that, earlier on when, as the ‘spin doctor’ of the Labour Party Black Sections, I was targeted by Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times.

I was not alone. How it worked was that Labour leaders had sold their souls to the Australian-born media mogul vying for his support.

They were then able to call in favours from journalists working for papers in his evil empire to reign in opponents.

Like me, rebellious Labour MPs would be warned to fall in line or face their private lives being “turned over” by The Sun, News of the World, The Times or The Sunday Times.

In my case, three reporters from the latter were unleashed on my Black Sections ally Linda Bellos, Lambeth’s powerful town hall leader, because we dared to publicly demand in 1989 that a black person should be chosen by Labour to represent Brixton in Parliament.

Indeed, Geordie Grieg, then working for The Sunday Times, but now editor of The Evening Standard, came unannounced to my Brixton home to quiz me, yet I hadn’t given him my address.

No, I’m not accusing Mr Grieg of phone hacking, but puzzled as to how journalists like him are able to obtain information like someone’s private address or an ex-directory telephone number.

Phone hacking and the sharp practices of journalists desperate to get a story at all costs to please their editor has never been confined to the News of the World, its sister Murdoch paper The Sun or the other ‘red top’ tabloid papers.

Remember, this year it was the sober Daily Telegraph, house journal of the Conservative Party, that stitched up the current government’s Business Secretary Vince Cable using attractive young women posing as members of the public at a constituency surgery.

Secretly recording Cable, they tricked him into boasting that he was going to “declare war” on Murdoch to stop him taking over control of hugely profitable broadcaster BSKyB in which the media mogul already had a 39 percent stake.

The Telegraph was officially told off by the toothless Press Complaints Commission. But ironically, though Cable lost his job as the minister responsible for the takeover decision, war was indeed later declared by politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown and rival news media after shocking revelations that the mobile of a teenage murder victim, Milly Dowler, was hacked by The News of the World.

This was the ‘tipping point’ for a public previously bored by what seemed like an obscure row between incestuous police, press and politicians.

To be honest, even I, a working journalist who had occasionally earned a living talking on the phone with the likes of Andy Coulson and others at Murdoch’s News International, was not much interested in the saga.

Then it became Britain’s Watergate, where the issue was not so much about the crime, but the cover-up. There is a case to be made that the public get the press and politicians they deserve. Murdoch’s muck-raking tabloids would not be so profitable if millions of people didn’t buy them to peer voyeuristically into the lives of footballers, celebrities and innocents like Milly Dowler.

Chronicleworld.org editor Professor Thomas L. Blair, a black American of Caribbean descent based in the UK, said: “We, in the Black community, have been as much targeted by phone hacking as anyone else, but that has been ignored. Think of the nasty stories that have been printed about our sports stars, celebrities and leaders. It happens on both sides of the Atlantic.”

He added: “We need our defenders. Investigative journalism by our own media is important because without it we won’t know what unscrupulous operators are doing to black people.”

Black Fleet Street veteran Hugh Muir, who has worked for The Mail on Sunday, Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and the BBC, said: “Everybody wants a vigorous press that uncovers wrong-doing, but clearly there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed by journalists.”

The Guardian diary editor added: “We are the first to dictate to others how they should behave, so using undercover means to get stories should be genuinely in the public interest and not a way of getting silly showbiz articles or other reports that don’t merit such practices.”

It was people-power on the internet that helped bring down feared Godfather Murdoch in Britain by orchestrating a boycott of News of the World advertisers.

This online guerrilla force also aided the toppling of long-standing dictators in the Middle East. The social media of Twitter and Facebook, of which my citizen journalism website is a part, have galvanised ordinary individuals in a way that traditional politics could only dream of.

Figures show the public are deserting celebrity and sleaze-obsessed big media – mainly Fleet Street newspapers – and turning to the much more democratic internet for a free global conversation.

The Guardian dogged exposure of phone-hacking by journalists at Murdoch’s biggest-selling English-language newspaper, The News of the World, uncovered the tip of an iceberg. Below the murky waterline lay corrupt senior police and political leaders in the pocket of tax dodger Murdoch. It has so far led to resignations including that of the Met’s head and Rebekah Brooks.

INQUIRY

Now a High Court judge-led public inquiry has been set up. The black community should not only be represented on the panel, but issues of racial equality and social justice must also tackled..

British newsrooms cannot remain ‘hideously white’, as former BBC director general Greg Dyke so eloquently put it, or our issues marginalised.

We have so many good stories worth tapping into – legally. But only a media that properly represents Britain, in all its racial diversity, will hear about them.

* Journalist, media lecturer and political activist Marc Wadsworth is the founder and editor of www.the-latest.com.

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