[INDEX UK on Censorship Web Site - February 1997]
ITN THREATENS TO SUE MAGAZINE FOR LIBEL - Adam Newey
Independent Television News (ITN) has threatened to sue the editors of the London-based magazine Living Marxism for libel if they refuse to pulp their entire February issue.
The threat is connected with an article in the issue called "The Picture that Fooled the World". The article contains comments about ITN's coverage of a detention camp run by the Bosnian Serb army at Trnopolje. An ITN camera crew, led by Penny Marshall and Jeremy Irvin, visited the camp on 5 August 1992 and filmed interviews with Bosnian Muslim inmates in and around the camp.
Some of the pictures they took - most especially of emaciated Bosnian Muslims filmed through a barbed wire fence - were widely reprinted in the British press and helped to galvanise Western opposition to the Bosnian Serbs. The pictures were interpreted by some in the media as evidence that the Bosnian Serbs were using concentration camps as a tool of ethnic cleansing, although the ITN journalists did not make any such claim in their report.
Thomas Deichmann, the German journalist who wrote the Living Marxism article, has obtained a copy of the unedited ITN footage. He argues that the unedited rushes make it clear that the detainees were not forcibly confined: 'The barbed wire in the picture is not around the Bosnian Muslims; it is around the cameraman and the journalists', writes Deichmann. 'It formed part of a broken-down barbed wire fence encircling a small compound that was next to the Trnopolje camp. The British team filmed from inside this compound, shooting pictures of refugees and the camp through the compound fence'.
Although Deichmann does not accuse the ITN journalists of deliberately trying to make it look as if the Bosnian Muslims were fenced in, he does criticise them for not doing enough to challenge the subsequent public interpretation of their pictures. 'Over the past four-and-a-half-years', says Deichmann, 'none of the journalists involved has told the full story about that barbed wire fence which made such an impact on world opinion'.
In a statement, ITN said that Deichmann's article undermines the integrity and professionalism of their news coverage. 'ITN rejects completely the outrageous and untrue allegations purportedly made by Mr Thomas Deichmann', the statement said.