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Mick Hume explains why LM magazine is refusing to give in to ITN's libel writs and gagging orders

A fight for freedom and the truth

As editor of LM, I am being sued for libel (along with the publisher Helene Guldberg) by a mega-corporation in a case which threatens to bankrupt our magazine. The multi-million pound company that is trying to silence the independent voice of LM is not McDonalds or Shell, but ITN - a media giant which is itself supposed to be committed to journalistic freedom.

The case centres on the article 'The Picture that Fooled the World' by German journalist Thomas Deichmann, published in our February 1997 issue, which raised embarrassing questions about ITN's award-winning pictures from a Bosnian Serb-run camp. (For a brief summary of Deichmann's case, see box below.)

ITN first demanded that we pulp every copy of the offending magazine, apologise and pay damages. When we declined to do so, they issued writs for libel - the legal gagging orders which the rich can hire in a bid to silence their critics. The magazine is now embroiled in a long and costly legal battle. ITN and its lawyers have made it clear that they are not simply seeking to set the record straight, but to inflict punitive damages on LM - in effect, to put us out of business and gag us for good.

So why is our small magazine, with its shoestring resources, prepared to risk ruin by standing up to ITN? Because there are important principles involved which symbolise what LM is all about, and on which we are not prepared to compromise.

LM stands for freedom of speech and a free press. We insist upon our right to report the truth as we understand it without fear of offending public opinion or upsetting powerful interests. It is not for ITN, the government, the courts or anybody else to dictate what facts and arguments we can and cannot make available to our readers.

There is now a more pressing need than ever to make a stand for the right to free speech. A repressive code of moral correctness dominates much of public discussion today, dictating that those views deemed 'extreme' or 'offensive' by the self-appointed guardians of the nation's ethics should not be heard at all. Such a not-in-front-of-the-children attitude to public discussion should be an anathema to anybody interested in freedom and democratic debate. (For an exposé of how this trend is distorting war reporting, read the LM special 'Whose war is it anyway? The dangers of the journalism of attachment', a pamphlet which came out of the issues raised around the libel case. See p14 for details.)

The other central issue at stake in the case is the rewriting of history. For five years, the misleading ITN pictures of emaciated Bosnian Muslims apparently encircled by a barbed wire fence at Trnopolje camp have been used around the world as the proof that the Bosnian Serbs ran Nazi-style 'concentration camps', or 'death camps' as Pulitzer prize winner Roy Gutman called them.

The implicit parallels drawn between the Bosnian conflict and the Holocaust are doubly dangerous. They distort the truth about Bosnia by demonising one side in the civil war. And more importantly still, they belittle the true horror of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews by comparing it to what was a bloody but unexceptional local conflict.

LM has been accused of 'historical revisionism' for daring to question the demonisation of the Serbs as Nazis. It is surely not 'revisionism' for LM to insist that there is a difference between a refugee and transit camp like Trnopolje, however grim, and a real concentration camp like Auschwitz, where the Nazis killed perhaps 100 times as many people as died in the entire Bosnian war. Those who imply otherwise really do run the risk of rewriting history, by trivialising the genocide against the Jews.

As the veteran Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said when the camps in Bosnia made world news in August 1992, 'To call the camps "concentration camps" is a minimisation of Nazi concentration camps, because not even the gulag camps could be compared with the Nazi camps"'.

It has always been a central concern of LM magazine to expose attempts to rewrite history which relativise the Holocaust, and so by implication belittle the great crime committed by capitalism in the twentieth century. That is one reason why we have consistently challenged the casual Holocaust-mongering practised by those liberals in the West who called Saddam Hussein 'the new Hitler', who claimed that the Rwandan civil war was 'the century's third genocide', and who suggested that the Bosnian Serbs were running 'concentration camps'.

Unfortunately, today it seems impossible to question the liberal consensus on these issues without being branded pro-Serb or accused of revisionism and 'Holocaust denial'. It is to be hoped that, as we continue to fight our battle with ITN in the public arena, more people can see beyond the hysterical name-calling and make a critical assessment of the facts.

Nobody should have the right to buy immunity from criticism through the courts, or to rewrite history without facing public cross-examination. If we are to carry on our fight around these issues in the face of overwhelming odds, LM needs all of the help we can get. We need moral, political and above all, financial, support.

Already our resistance to ITN's libel writs has won some important support at home and abroad (for example, see the appeal on p42). If you want to help take a stand in defence of freedom and the truth, you can get in touch with the LM libel appeal, The Off the Fence Fund - see the advert on the back page for details.

The picture that fooled the world

This is a brief summary of Thomas Deichmann's revelations about the award-winning ITN pictures from Trnopolje camp. For the full story, see 'The picture that fooled the world' in the February issue of LM.

On 5 August 1992, a British news team led by Penny Marshall (ITN for News at Ten), with her cameraman Jeremy Irvin, and fellow reporters Ian Williams (ITN for Channel 4 News), and Ed Vulliamy (the Guardian newspaper) visited Trnopolje camp in the Bosnian Serb territory of northern Bosnia. They left with striking pictures of the emaciated Fikret Alic and other Bosnian Muslims apparently caged behind a barbed wire fence.

These pictures were broadcast around the world, and immediately became the defining image of the horrors of the war in Bosnia. In particular, the world media held up the picture of Fikret Alic behind the barbed wire as proof that the Bosnian Serbs were running a Nazi-style 'concentration camp', or even 'death camp', at Trnopolje. The impact of these images was to colour all subsequent coverage of the war, and to prove instrumental in persuading the American and British governments to adopt a more interventionist policy towards Bosnia.

But the image of Trnopolje as what British newspapers called 'Belsen '92' was misleading. Fikret Alic and the other Bosnian Muslims in the picture were not encircled by a barbed wire fence. There was no barbed wire fence surrounding Trnopolje camp. The barbed wire was only around a small compound next to the camp, and had been erected before the war to protect agricultural produce and machinery from thieves. Penny Marshall and her team got their famous pictures by filming the camp and the Bosnian Muslims from inside this compound, taking pictures through the compound fence of people who were actually standing outside the area fenced-in with barbed wire.

Whatever the British news team's intentions may have been, their pictures were falsely interpreted around the world as the first hard evidence of concentration camps and a 'Holocaust' in Bosnia. They became the pictures that fooled the world, the most potent symbol used to support a misleading interpretation not only of Trnopolje camp, but of the entire Yugoslav civil war.

Penny Marshall and Ian Williams did not call Trnopolje a concentration camp; nor did Ed Vulliamy at first, although the more time elapses, the more certain he seems to be that there was one after all. All three British journalists have expressed concern at the way in which others used their reports and pictures as 'proof' of a Nazi-style Holocaust.

Yet none of them has ever corrected the false interpretation placed upon those pictures, by telling the world the full story of that barbed wire fence and explaining how the famous Trnopolje pictures were actually taken. Why? Thomas Deichmann's question has been met by with libel writs, gagging orders, threats and slanderous insults, but no answers.

If you would like to read Thomas Deichmann's investigation in full you can buy a copy of February's issue of LM (No97) by sending a cheque for £3 to BM JP Graphics, London WC1N 3XX made payable to JP Graphics.

This article first appeared in LM 104

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