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Mick Hume, Editor

Editor's warning: according to recent reports, this magazine is an apologist for mass murder funded by a foreign government. Now read on.

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 fence.

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 be fabrications'.

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 acts?

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 like Auschwitz?

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
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