ITN vs LM

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March 1997


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[Weekly Worker - 20 March 1997]

Censorship's slippery slope - Eddie Ford

Not for the first time, LM - formerly Living Marxism and publication of the Revolutionary Communist Party - has become a hate figure for the bourgeois press and respectable liberal opinion in general. You can guarantee that Mick Hume, the editor, is delighted with this new round of free publicity.

This time, it is the turn of The Guardian to lead the attack. Unsurprisingly, given that paper's essentially gung ho approach to the civil war in Bosnia, it objects most strongly to LM's refusal to toe the 'let's blame the Serbs for everything' line. In particular, LM has questioned the famous - or infamous, perhaps - 'concentration camp' photograph of the emaciated 'Bosniac', Fikret Alic, taken from the ITN film footage. Even worse - as far as The Guardian is concerned - LM has suggested that the ITN film footage has been faked, in the sense that the ITN film was shot from inside the Trnopolje camp and that the Bosnian muslims in the camp had gone there voluntarily in order to seek protection.

Whatever the exact rights and wrongs of LM's case, this was enough to bring the house down, and catapult members of the RCP into the same league as paedophiles, rapists, serial killers and Satanists. This symbol of the Bosnian war has almost become a sacred icon for some sections of the bourgeoisie - and even some on the left, it has to be said - whose essential 'purity' and 'truth' must be preserved from all heretics and unbelievers. To attack the Fikret Alic icon, according to this school of thought, is not only to dance on the graves of the victims of the Bosnian war - it also means you are guilty of the 'sinister' crime of rewriting history (sic) and thus become no different from fascist types who deny the holocaust ever took place.

The most serious aspect of the 'LM scandal' is that ITN has slapped a writ for libel on LM and Mick Hume. It is also suing the magazine's printers and a subsidiary of the Press Association, which carried a 'defamatory' LM press release promoting its argument.

This is a clear attack on democratic rights and freedom of speech. ITN is saying - alongside, it seems, The Guardian - that there is only one version of the war in Bosnia. No others are permitted. If ITN was to win its case in court this would have grave ramifications (and mean that the Bosnian war would become a heavily mythologised, taboo subject).

ITN's attack on LM also raises more general points of principle. There has been talk - especially by Jack Straw and the Labour Party - of introducing a German-style 'holocaust denial' law, which would make it a criminal offence to deny that the holocaust ever took place. If the bourgeois state had such powers, who is to say that it could not also proclaim that it is a crime to deny that the Bosnian 'holocaust' ever took place - or that the film of Alic was faked? More importantly, would The Guardian, Workers Aid for Bosnia - and some on the left - applaud such an authoritarian measure?

It is plain fact that some on the left do indeed appeal to be the bourgeois state to act as arbiter when it comes to deciding what is 'decent' or not - or what is the 'correct' version of history.

This was proved last week at the Old Bailey, where three members of the racist/fascist group, Combat 18, were jailed - from 12 to 17 months - for possessing "offensive" material - no doubt the judgement The Guardian would like to pass upon LM. Summing up, Judge Pownall QC 'defended' freedom of speech ┬Ěso long as it remains "within the law and without being threatening, abusive or insulting".

The sentences outraged anti-fascist campaigners such as Gerry Gable, editor of the state-approved (if not sanctioned) Searchlight magazine. Naively, and disgustingly, Gable wanted the bourgeois courts to hand out stiffer sentences to the Combat 18 members, lamenting: "It's depressing to see such short sentences being handed down... In an atmosphere that is calling for the courts to get touch with serious and violent criminals, this has not exactly acted as a deterrent."

Unlike Gable, communists do not think that if Judge Pownall had thrown the book at the C-18 members this would have been a progressive measure, as step forward in the fight against fascism. Quite the opposite. At the end of the day, Pownall and co in the future will be far more worried about genuine anti-fascist campaigners than C-18 boneheads, as they will be challenging the real source of fascism - i.e., the bourgeois state. Of course, such an approach is alien to 'respectable' anti-fascists like Gable, who see the bourgeois state as the vehicle for salvation, which will protect us from nasty fascists and Nazis.

There is also the strong suspicion that if New Labour - or whoever - did introduce some sort of 'anti-holocaust' (or 'anti-hatred') law, then Gerry Gable and Luke Harding would be demanding the immediate arrest of Mick Hume, and would complain very bitterly if he 'only' got 17 months. After all, they would say, publishing articles in glossy magazines claiming that there were no Bosnian concentration camps is just the slippery slope...

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