the whole story:
Other LM articles
Mick Hume, Editor
Editor's warning: according to recent reports, this magazine is
an apologist for mass murder funded by a foreign government. Now
As the libel case in which ITN is suing me and LM gets closer
to trial, our opponents in the media are upping the stakes in
the war of words. They have launched what used to be called a
whispering campaign against us - except that these people tend
to do their 'whispering' in the columns of the national press
and on the internet.
Before dealing with the latest accusations we had better briefly
summarise the issues at stake in the libel case. It centres on
the article 'The picture that fooled the world', written by German journalist Thomas Deichmann, and published
in the February 1997 issue of LM.
Deichmann's article investigated the circumstances behind the
famous ITN pictures of an emaciated Bosnian Muslim, Fikret Alic,
apparently caged behind barbed wire at the Bosnian Serb-run Trnopolje
camp in August 1992. Ever since it was first broadcast around
the world, this image has been the most powerful symbol of the
war in Bosnia. It is widely seen as proof that the Serbs were
(and are) the new Nazis, who ran concentration camps in Bosnia,
and whom the UN and Nato have had (and will have) to punish with
air strikes, sanctions and war crimes trials.
Deichmann's investigation - centred on a detailed examination
of the uncut footage shot by ITN - alleged that this infamous
image was not all that it seemed. Trnopolje was no Nazi-style
concentration camp, but a refugee and transit camp on the site
of a school and community centre. There was no barbed wire fence
around the camp. Instead, the barbed wire fence in the picture
surrounded an old agricultural compound adjoining the camp area.
The ITN journalists had entered this compound and filmed Fikret
Alic and the other Bosnian Muslims through the wire. Despite the
impression given by the pictures, it was the British journalists,
not the Bosnian Muslims, who were encircled by the barbed wire
Deichmann's revelations were carried by prestigious newspapers
across Europe. When LM published the article in Britain as 'The
picture that fooled the world', however, ITN demanded that we
pulp every copy, apologise and pay damages. When we refused to
be gagged they issued writs for libel - an unprecedented attempt
by a major news organisation to silence an independent magazine
through the courts.
Eighteen months later, as the legal process drags on, we are still
waiting to have our day in court. But some within the media have
already found us guilty of heinous crimes. Throughout the past
year and a half, LM, me and Thomas Deichmann have been branded
as supporters of Serbian nationalism, Holocaust revisionists,
and even the devil's agents. In recent weeks the campaign to discredit
us and caricature our case has been stepped up a gear.
Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian, who was with the ITN team behind
the barbed wire at Trnopolje, is almost as obsessed with what
he has called the 'diabolical' LM as he is with the evil Serbs.
Writing in the Guardian on 4 August (after the man the paper described
as 'Serbian concentration camp manager Milan Kovacevic' had died
of a heart attack in his cell at the International War Crimes
Tribunal at The Hague), Vulliamy once again rounded on the 'gang
of revisionists collected around the magazine Living Marxism,
who contorted the [ITN] footage to concoct a grotesque and false
claim that our camps story had been fabricated'. Two days later,
in the Independent, Stephen Howe accused LM writers of 'apologetics
for mass murder', because we apparently insist that, if they appear
in the mainstream media, then 'stories of genocide in Bosnia must
At the same time, more smears about LM and the libel case were
flying around the internet. Some of these came to light when Michael
Griffin, news editor of the journal Index on Censorship, sent
Thomas Deichmann an unsolicited email on 29 July. In this extraordinary
outburst, Griffin alleged that 'LM is working to a Serbian agenda
in this legal exercise in sophistry', that we are guilty of 'Bosnia-denial',
and that 'the magazine LM...literally receives funding from Serbia's
post-war propaganda machinery'.
It's a fair cop. And I would like other offences of throwing babies
out of incubators, violating nuns and laundering money for the
Colombian cocaine cartel through our Swiss-based subscriptions
department to be taken into consideration.
The strange thing is that despite all of the thousands of words
of vitriol poured on LM over the past 18 months, none of our critics
has ever once addressed the substance of Thomas Deichmann's allegations,
about the way in which those misleading pictures were taken at
Trnopolje camp. Not one of them. Ever. Instead they have employed
two diversionary tactics, both of which are evident in the latest
round of mudslinging.
Tactic One: rather than deal with Deichmann's actual allegations,
you credit him and LM with some ridiculously exaggerated arguments
which make an easier target. This is why our critics like to pretend
that Deichmann says ITN 'fabricated' the camps story, or to claim
that LM says everything in the mainstream media is a 'fabrication'.
The language conjures up images of journalists bringing their
own barbed wire with them, or hiring thin men to play prisoners,
or perhaps building the entire camp out of papier mâché. Never
mind suing us under the libel laws; if those are the kind of accus-ations
we're bandying about, why not section us under the mental health
Tactic Two: you ignore Deichmann's allegations and evidence altogether,
and simply try to discredit the journalist and the magazine by
association. Hence all of the recent smear stories about us being
'revisionists' denying the truth of genocide in Bosnia, or working
to a 'Serbian agenda', or even being 'literally' funded by Serb
gold. All of which, I cannot deny, is literally crap.
The agenda we are working to, in first publishing Deichmann's
article and then standing up to ITN's libel writs, is our own
and it's simple enough. We want to highlight the dangers of rewriting
the history of the Holocaust. And we believe in the importance
of press freedom.
The ITN picture of Fikret Alic apparently caged behind barbed
wire at Trnopolje became the key image which finally persuaded
the world that the Bosnian Serbs were running Nazi-style concentration
camps. But as Deichmann's investigation showed, what legitimate
comparison could there be between a ramshackle refugee and transit
camp like Trnopolje, however grim, and a real concentration camp
Contrary to what Michael Griffin says in his accusation of 'Bosnia-denial',
there is no evidence that 'a quarter of a million died' in that
conflict. A more realistic estimate is 30 000 50 000 combined
deaths on all sides in the Bosnian civil war; a figure which comes
not from the 'Serb propaganda machine', but from the respected
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The Nazis killed
perhaps 100 times as many at Auschwitz alone.
At LM we have insisted throughout that drawing loose comparisons
between the Second World War and the Bosnian conflict ran a double
risk. It risked distorting the real situation in Bosnia, by demonising
the Serbs as the new Nazis; and. more importantly, it risked belittling
the unique horror of the Nazi genocide against the Jews, by equating
it with the civil war in Bosnia. It is because we see the dangers
in rewriting the history of the Holocaust in this way that we
have sought to expose how ITN's pictures fooled the world.
It seems we are not alone in our concerns. John Simpson of the
BBC has argued that 'the Serbs do not deserve to be branded modern-day
Nazis', and that 'the identi-fication with the Nazis came most
strongly as a result of a single set of television pictures from
the camps run by the Serbs at Omarska and Trnopolje in August
1992' (Sunday Telegraph, 15 March 1998). More recently, Christopher
Dunkley has also highlighted how the evidence Deichmann has compiled
calls into question the accepted media view of Bosnia (Financial
Times, 5 August 1998). But then, perhaps the BBC's world affairs
editor and the FT's television correspondent are in the pay of
the Serbs too.
The other issue at stake in this case is press freedom. For LM
that means the freedom to go against the grain and challenge the
orthodoxy of the day. We live in an age of conformism and emotional
correctness in the media, when to step outside of the rigid framework
imposed on discussion is to risk being accused of blasphemy; when
to question the consensus on an issue like Bosnia is to risk being
accused of 'revisionism' - and dragged through the libel courts.
At stake in the libel case is the right of a magazine like LM
to tell our readers the truth as we understand it, to offer them
the evidence and the arguments to back it up, and to allow them
to judge for themselves, without being dictated to by ITN, the
judges or anybody else. That is what makes the cause worth supporting
for all of us who believe that our fundamental right to free speech
matters more than their bogus right not to be offended. As our
opponents turn up the heat with the approach of the trial, we
are going to need the moral and financial support to match them.
Our libel defence fund is happy - no, desperate - to accept money
from freedom-loving individuals of any and every nationality.
As for the mythical Serb gold, I am tired of repeating that my
magazine has never taken a penny from any foreign party or government,
and anybody who says otherwise is a miserable liar. If it wasn't
against my principles, I'd sue.
Send donations to the Off the Fence Fund, c/o LM, Signet House,
49-51 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB
Looking for young writers
LM is winning a reputation as a magazine that puts new writers
on the map. If you are under 26 years old, and interested in trying
your hand at investigative journalism or attending one of our
young writers' courses, write to The Editor, LM, Signet House,
49-51 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB.
Reproduced from LM issue 113, September 1998