the whole story:
Other LM articles
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
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
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
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
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
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