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The mag ITN wants to gag

ITN is using the libel laws to try to silence LM magazine. This is an unprecedented attack on press freedom by a media giant. But the battle has only just begun.

The controversy centres on Thomas Deichmann's article, 'The Picture that Fooled the World', published in our February issue, which raises serious questions about ITN's award-winning pictures of Trnopolje camp in Bosnia, first broadcast in August 1992.

On 24 January 1997, before the magazine even went on sale, LM editor Mick Hume received an urgent fax from ITN's lawyers, Biddle & Co - the same firm who acted for prime minister John Major in his punitive libel action against the New Statesman.

ITN's lawyers demanded that Hume immediately withdraw February's LM and pulp every copy, apologise to their journalists and pay damages. The kind of gagging order normally associated with a Robert Maxwell or a Sir James Goldsmith was now being attempted by one of the world's most prestigious news organisations.

When LM told ITN what to do with their threats, they issued writs for libel. The magazine now faces a long and very costly legal battle to establish our freedom to publish the truth. Meanwhile ITN has used all of its influence and its lawyers to scare the rest of the media off the story. 'ITN does not, of course, seek to stifle fair public discussion' declares one letter their lawyers sent to LM. They could have fooled us.

Britain's libel laws are a censorship charter which the rich can hire to silence their critics. Those who believe in the freedom of the press must surely oppose this attempt by a multi-million pound corporation to buy immunity from criticism through the courts.

Yet the ITN journalists responsible for the Trnopolje reports, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, have put their names to the libel writs against LM. And the Guardian journalist who accompanied them in Bosnia, Ed Vulliamy, has lent his support to ITN's libel prosecution. So much for Vulliamy's attempt to win a reputation as a crusader against the abuse of power.

In February, many celebrated when a High Court jury threw out a police libel action against the Guardian. 'It's a good day for the press', said the paper's crime correspondent, Duncan Campbell; 'It would be an even better day if the libel law were changed to give better protection to smaller papers who have been forced to cave in when threatened with the huge costs of fighting an action'. We could not agree more with Mr Campbell. We are still waiting for the statements from the Guardian and the rest of the press taking a principled stand against ITN's attempt to make LM magazine 'cave in' before the libel law.

If a cave-in is what ITN expects, we advise them not to hold their breath. LM magazine stands by Thomas Deichmann's story, and is prepared to fight all the libel writs and gagging orders they can throw at us. But we are going to need all the help we can get.

Details of the LM libel appeal, the 'Off the Fence' fund

'There is a simple way to resolve this matter. ITN should show the full, unedited videotape that its team shot at Trnopolje on 5 August 1992. Then everybody will know the truth.' LM Editor, Mick Hume

This article first appeared in LM 98

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