the whole story:
Other LM articles
ITN's desperate attempt to use the libel laws to gag LM magazine
is setting new standards of censorship and scaremongering.
Threats, writs and videotape
It is now clear that the issue at stake is not just the future
of LM magazine. It is about the freedom of anybody to publish
the truth as they understand it, instead of saying only that which
will not offend the executives and lawyers of a mega-corporation.
ITN and its allies have gone further and further in their bid
to suppress Thomas Deichmann's investigation into their award-winning
pictures of a Bosnian camp, which was published in the February
issue of LM. (For a summary of the story see below.)
- First ITN came for LM magazine. On 24 January ITN's high-powered
lawyers, Biddle & Co, wrote to LM editor Mick Hume demanding that
all copies of February's LM be 'pulped'. When Hume refused to
comply, they issued writs for libel.
- Then ITN went for the rest of the media. They have threatened
legal action against anybody who touches the story. On 20 February
they issued a writ against the PR firm Two-Ten Communications
(a wholly-owned subsidiary of Press Association) demanding damages
and an apology in court, simply because the company had dared
to distribute an LM press release announcing the publication of
the February issue and the 'offending' article.
- Then ITN went for the print industry. On 24 February Biddle &
Co wrote to the printers of LM magazine, Russell Press of Nottingham.
It threatened them with possible legal action, not simply if they
reprinted the alleged libel, but if they printed 'future issues
The upshot of this campaign is that, even before the libel case
ever gets to court, LM magazine cannot safely be printed anywhere
in this country and faces the bank-breaking costs of a major legal
Meanwhile the story of 'the pictures that fooled the world' has
effectively been kept out of the rest of the British media by
ITN's blockade--sometimes with the willing connivance of the publication
or programme concerned, other times at the point of a loaded libel
Thomas Deichmann's story has been widely reported and debated
in respected papers across Europe, including: in Germany, Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tagesspiegel, Freitag,
Die Welt, Berliner Morgenpost, Die Tageszeitung, Liepzieger Volkszeitung and Konkret; in Italy, Il Corriere della
Sera, L'Unita and Il Sole; Weltwoche in Switzerland; Wiener Standard
in Austria; Sweden's Helsingborgs Dagblad; and De Groene Amsterdammer
in the Netherlands.
Yet within Britain, the one country where the allegations made
against ITN and its journalists ought to cause a national scandal,
there has effectively been a conspiracy of silence. One exception
to this is the 'liberal' Guardian group, which has put aside its
own criticisms of the libel laws to launch a hysterical smear
campaign against Deichmann and LM, with a nasty but nervous feature
by Ed Vulliamy (Observer, 2 February) and a risible 'exposé' by
a Vulliamy wannabe (Guardian, 12 March). It is a sure sign of
how far things have gone when even a supposedly libelous scandal
sheet like Private Eye appears to come out in support of a libel
action against LM.
There can be no doubt now that what ITN want is a crude gagging
order, dressed up in the legal finery of a libel writ. Defamation
is not the issue; if anybody has been defamed in this affair,
it is Thomas Deichmann, who has been the subject of all kinds
of lowlife character assassination.
Britain's libel laws are a system of censorship-for-hire, available
to anybody so long as they have enough noughts at the end of their
bank balance. ITN's pursuit of LM magazine is the latest example
of how these laws can be used by a multi-million pound corporation
in a bid to buy immunity from criticism through the courts.
What makes this case extraordinary, however, is that this time
the powerful body waving the gagging order is not McDonalds or
John Major, but a major news organisation which prides itself
on its global reputation for fearlessly reporting the truth.
ITN has already gone further than many media people could ever
have imagined in its bid to gag LM and stop anybody else publishing
embarrassing revelations about its award-winning pictures. Who
knows how much further they will go? There is a powerful air of
paranoia around the ITN bunker on the Gray's Inn Road, with staff
being cross-examined and all enquiries about 'that' picture now
being politically vetted by the press office.
Anybody who did not know better might think that they had something
This is not just LM magazine's battle. ITN's actions should alarm
all who are concerned about the existence of a free press and
of open discussion of controversial issues.
LM intends to fight every gagging order, libel writ and scare
tactic that they might throw at us. We intend to stand by our
story, and to stand by our principles. But we are going to need
all the help that we can get.
Take a stand with LM in defence of the freedom of the press and
the right to tell it like it is. Support the LM libel appeal,
The Off the Fence Fund, in whatever way you can.
LM97 February and LM98 March
Five hundred packed Westminster's Church House in march for the
launch of the Off The Fence fund to defend LM against ITN's gagging order. Journalist Thomas Deichmann (below,
top) showed the ITN footage that ITN doesn't want seen, while
George Kenney, ex-US State Department (below, middle) explained
how the pictures spurred American intervention.
Volunteers queued up to answer LM editor Mick Hume's call to defend the right to tell it like it
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 best-selling 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 have not called Trnopolje a concentration
camp; nor did Ed Vulliamy at first, although he later seemed to
remember that it 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.
It is not the first time that ITN's coverage of a foreign war
has been called into question, recalls Eddie Veale
Sandy of Afghanistan
'The reports shown on ITN's bulletins on 6 August 1992 of the
discovery of the Serb-run camps in northern Bosnia by ITN journalists
were prepared and presented with the utmost professionalism and
integrity, as would be expected of ITN.' (ITN Statement on allegations in LM magazine, 23 January 1997)
Those seeking another example of 'the utmost professionalism and
integrity...expected of ITN' might like to look back to one of
ITN man Sandy Gall's famous reports from the frontline of the
war in Afghanistan.
In February 1989, the Soviet armed forces were pulling out of
Afghanistan after a 10-year occupation. The Western media confidently
declared that the Soviet-backed Afghan government and its capital,
Kabul, would now quickly fall to the Mujaheddin rebels. Several
hundred international journalists descended on Peshawar, just
across the Afghan border in Pakistan, to report what they expected
to be the successful end of the Mujaheddin's war. Among them was
the veteran ITN reporter Sandy Gall.
Gall was well-known for his crusading reports on the Mujaheddin's
guerrilla war against the Soviet-backed government. Margaret Thatcher
who, along with Ronald Reagan, was the most fervent supporter
of the Afghan rebels, wrote the foreword to Gall's book Afghanistan:
Travels with the Mujaheddin. In February 1989 Gall told the Daily
Mail: 'I want to be there for the taking of Kabul. I want to go
in with them for that. I see it as a mirror image of what happened
in Saigon. I would like to be there.'
On 6 February 1989, ITN broadcast Sandy Gall's 'Afghan journal'
on News at Ten. The item included what appeared to be hot news
footage, shot by Gall's team, of Mujaheddin guerrillas successfully
attacking a government post. Sandy Gall gave a running, present-tense
commentary on the film: 'A British-made missile scores a direct
hit on a post guarding the road...The heavy machine gun opens
up...Then a tank fires back, just as it is hit. The Mujaheddin
celebrate by expending a little surplus ammunition, proud of such
dramatic proof of their success...Mujaheddin morale is correspondingly
high. Here too, success breeds success.'
But Sandy Gall's 'dramatic proof' was not all that it seemed.
A few months later, on 13 November 1989, Channel Four's Bandung
File broadcast an investigation into Western media coverage of
Afghanistan, and Gall's 'Afghan journal' in particular. The Bandung
File revealed that at least a third of the footage used in Gall's
6 February report had not come from ITN cameras at all, but had
been supplied on tape by a Peshawar-based news agency, the Afghan
Media Resource Centre. Far from being Gall's eye-witness account
of a Mujaheddin attack during the Soviet withdrawal of February
1989, this footage of guerillas in action had actually been shot
at least three months earlier.
The Afghan Media Resource Centre, which supplied the footage,
was no ordinary news agency. It had been set up with American
government money to spread propaganda for the Mujaheddin. This
was the public face of US support for the Afghan rebels, to go
alongside covert military aid. The US Information Agency used
money voted by Congress to pay for Mujaheddin supporters to be
trained at the Boston University School of Journalism. Some of
these trainees went back to run the Afghan Media Resource Centre.
The director of the Afghan Media Resource Centre, Haji Syed Daud,
told the Bandung File that the 'young Mujaheddin' trained in Boston
were supplying material for ITN, BBC and CNN among other news
organisations. He confirmed that the centre had been helpful to
Sandy Gall. 'When Mr Sandy Gall came to Peshawar, February, our
video department help him, shooting footage for him, and also
they gave him video footage from our archive, and also they [did
some] editing, maybe rough editing, for Mr Sandy Gall.'
So Sandy Gall's 'Afghan journal', broadcast by ITN, had used old
footage of unproven origin, supplied by an uncredited Mujaheddin
propaganda source which was financed by US government agencies.
And this was what Gall presented as first-hand 'proof' of what
was happening on the ground in Afghanistan. All done with 'the
utmost professionalism and integrity', no doubt.
ITN's statement, issued in response to the Bandung File's revelations,
insisted that it was 'extremely proud' of its coverage of the
Afghan war, and that it was 'against that background of journalistic
excellence that the Bandung File has sought to highlight criticism
of one small section of ITN's coverage. Nonetheless', ITN conceded,
'the criticism is valid':
'A small amount of footage included in Sandy Gall's report on
February 6 was shot by the Afghan Media Resource Centre. That
the Afghan Media Resource Centre make material available to television
broadcasters is not in itself a matter which we regard as controversial.
It should, however, as the Bandung File has suggested, have been
clearly labelled as to its source. To have done so would have
assisted the viewer in his or her understanding of the report
as a whole.'
So it all was just a small technical oversight. That is one way
of interpreting the Sandy Gall affair. Another way is to place
this shameful episode in the context of media coverage of the
Afghan war, and see it as symptomatic of a wider problem.
As the Soviet army withdrew, the massed ranks of the Western media
arrived expecting to report one story and one story only: the
historic victory of the Mujaheddin rebels and the fall of the
Kabul government. As Sandy Gall had told the Mail, the press were
looking for a re-run of the scenes which accompanied the final
American withdrawal from Saigon, South Vietnam, in 1975--only
this time with the Soviets being the ones humiliated.
Elaine Parnell, a respected producer with Worldwide Television
News, gave the Bandung File an insight into the mindset of Western
journalists at the time:
'Malnutrition [in Kabul] was completely hyped out of all proportion.
There was in fact one child in the hospital suffering from malnutrition
and this has become one of the most photographed children during
the war. They started to imagine a Saigon situation, and they
wanted to see a Saigon situation. They wanted to see Soviets climbing
on the bottom of helicopters.
'The British public has been fed a diet of Mujaheddin heroism.
The story was simply painted in black and white terms. The Soviets
invaded the country, they were the bad guys, the Mujaheddin were
the good guys. The Soviets did invade, they were bad, the Mujaheddin
were certainly brave. But the story was also a little more complicated
than that. There was another side to the Mujaheddin that perhaps
the Western public wouldn't find so palatable....But a lot of
the time this was ignored because it didn't fit the image that
the media was trying to portray.'
Western news teams always seemed to shoot their pictures from
behind Mujaheddin lines, and often seemed--as in Sandy Gall's
Afghan journal--to be reporting spectacular Mujaheddin successes,
when in fact, as with any guerrilla war, most of their operations
failed. One result of this attitude was to create a climate in
which the experts confidently assured the world that the Kabul
government would quickly crumble once the Soviets withdrew--a
prediction which proved wildly inaccurate.
Some might have claimed that media misreporting from Afghanistan
was simply a technical problem. Others saw more political factors
at work. 'There was a rather obvious veil drawn over the question
of who was supporting the Mujaheddin', Professor Fred Halliday
of the London School of Economics told the Bandung File: 'I think
Sandy Gall referred to "the backers of the Mujaheddin". That these
backers of the Mujaheddin included the United Kingdom and the
United States was not spelt out, indeed it was very rarely spelt
out by any of those who supported the guerrillas or reported from
the guerrilla side. And in that sense the political input into
the Afghan war was bleached out.'
The Bandung File reveals the origins of ITN's live action scenes--film
shot by a US-backed Mujaheddin propaganda group months earlier
George Kenney resigned from the US State Department in August
1992, in protest at the Bush administration's policy towards the
former Yugoslavia. This is his personal account of how the bogus
interpretation which the world placed upon ITN's pictures of Trnopolje
camp helped to put Washington on a war footing
How media misinformation led to bosnian intervention
Was it inevitable that the West intervened militarily in Bosnia's
civil war, taking sides against the Serbs, and then occupying
the country? I doubt it. Was it right? No, not insofar as careful,
objective, after-the-fact investigation of key media events was
The first turning point, that led straightaway to the introduction
of Western troops, coincided with ITN's broadcast of images of
what was widely assumed to be a concentration camp, at the Bosnian
Serb-run Trnopolje refugee collection centre in August 1992. Now,
in a stunning development, Thomas Deichmann has discovered that
those ITN images 'fooled the world'.
To understand the impact that those misleading ITN pictures had,
one must look at the atmosphere of July/August in Washington.
Beginning with his 19 July articles on the Serb-run detention
centres at Manjaca and Omarska, Roy Gutman of Newsday began filing
a series of stories--based, he minimally acknowledged at that
time, only on second and third-hand accounts--that culminated
in his charge in several stories filed from 2-5 August that the
Bosnian Serbs were operating 'Nazi-style' (his words) death camps
for non-Serb prisoners of war.
As the Yugoslav desk officer at the State Department, I knew about
these stories before they were printed, because Gutman had contacted
the then US Consulate General in Zagreb to tell officials of his
suspicions and ask for help in corroborating his findings. Specifically,
he wanted US spy satellites to determine whether a 'death camp'
was in operation. Nobody took this request seriously, but I knew
such reports could create a public relations firestorm, so I made
a special effort to keep the highest levels of the State Department's
management, including Deputy Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger's
office, informed of his work. I did not, however, think management
paid much--or enough--attention before Gutman's story broke.
Among other tasks, I was responsible for drafting press materials,
which mainly involved preparing State Department Spokeswoman Margaret
Tutwiler for her daily noon press briefing. Tutwiler, who was
Secretary James Baker's closest confidant and unofficially the
second most influential person at State, felt that the USA should
have been doing considerably more to stop, or at least suppress,
the civil war in Bosnia. Alone among senior officials in her surreptitious
dissent, she drew constant attention to the war's worst aspects,
hoping to spur the administration to greater action if for no
other reason than Baker's fear of bad press. At my initiative,
she had already used the term 'ethnic cleansing' in mid-May to
describe Bosnian Serb actions, introducing this previously unknown
revilement into the vernacular. Frequent use of this sort of lurid
language conditioned the press into a Pavlovian yearning for ever
more shocking news of atrocities.
On Tuesday, 4 August Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
Tom Niles was scheduled to give routine testimony to the House
International Relations European Subcommittee, and in carrying
out this obligation he badly erred, compounding public outcry
about Gutman's 'death camps' report. Inexplicably, Niles decided
to stonewall instead of earnestly declaring that we knew little,
but took the matter seriously and were looking into it. The subcommittee
responded poorly, with Niles particularly enraging its presiding
member, Tom Lantos, a survivor of pro-Nazi Hungarian concentration
Adding to public frustrations, Niles' comments appeared to differ
from what Tutwiler's assistant Richard Boucher told the press
pool at the State Department the day before--that the USA knew
about the Gutman stories. Boucher had meant only that US officials
read newspapers, but the leading papers unanimously (and mistakenly)
reported that he said State had independent confirmation from
its intelligence sources. Reporters, smelling a cover-up, launched
into full-throated choruses of 'what did they know, and when did
they know it?' More importantly, they asked, 'what is the USA
going to do?'.
The truth was, the State Department knew very little. The real
scandal was that it did not want to know more, because whatever
could have been learned might also have brought new obligations
to do something (anything). But by early 1992 the White House
had decided not to incur the least substantive responsibility
for the Yugoslav crisis, in order to avoid a Vietnam-like slippery
slope and messy foreign entanglements during an election. We did
not know whether minor measures might have brought results, but
had no will to experiment. Yugoslavia, in the US government's
view, was Europe's problem; the State Department was determined
it should stay that way.
In any case, by mid-week the State Department's public affairs
officials were in a nuclear panic. The Yugoslav desk was asked,
twice, to review its files about what we knew on 'death camps',
and I gave Boucher a thick folder to photocopy of telegrams from
my unofficial, personal file on Bosnia. There was not much information
there--nothing confirming Gutman's story--and the State Department
struggled to find words to get out of the hole it had dug for
itself. We had to explain our limited knowledge and say something
more than 'we do not like concentration camps', but less than
'we intend to invade Bosnia and shut them down'.
Sensing an opportunity to attack President George Bush, on 5 August
then-candidate Bill Clinton renewed his call for the USA, through
the United Nations, to bomb Bosnian Serb positions. The US Senate
began consideration of a symbolic vote (eventually approved) to
permit the use of force to ensure aid deliveries and access to
the camps. Even high Vatican officials, speaking unofficially
for the Pope, noted parallels between Nazi atrocities and Bosnian
camps, and called for military intervention 'to hold back the
hand of the aggressor'.
A kind of hysteria swept through the Washington press corps. Few
outsiders believed State was trying to tell the truth. After I
resigned over policy in late August, for example, senior Clinton
campaign officials speedily approached me regarding the camps
issue, seeking advice on whether they should pursue spy satellite
records which the administration allegedly ignored. I told them
not to waste their time. And for years afterwards journalists
continued to ask me about 'the cover-up'.
On Wednesday 5 August, in an effort to quell the burgeoning Boucher/Niles
'cover-up' story and regain control of the press, Deputy Secretary
Eagleburger's office issued a clarification of the State Department's
position, including an appeal for 'war crimes investigations'
into reports of atrocities in Bosnian detention centres. Immune
to his efforts, extremely harsh press criticism continued to mount
from every quarter. On Thursday, President George Bush issued
an ill-prepared statement urging the United Nations Security Council
to authorise the use of 'all necessary measures' to ensure relief
deliveries, but stopped short of calling for the use of force
to release prisoners. British and French officials responded that
his statement was a reaction to political concerns in the USA.
Meanwhile, further inflaming the public outcry, Serb forces stepped
up their attacks on Sarajevo.
At almost exactly the moment of President Bush's call to arms,
ITN's pictures first aired. I do not know whether senior State
Department officials saw or learned of them that day, but I viewed
them, to the best of my recollection, with a handful of colleagues
on Friday morning or possibly early afternoon, in the office of
European Bureau's chief of public affairs. We were unanimous,
from our respective mid-to-mid-senior level vantage points, that
the tape was ruinous for the Bush administration's hands-off policy
and could not but result in significant US actions. The notion
that 'we have got to do something' echoed down State's corridors.
At the start of the week possible critical policy shifts were
dimly perceived and highly tentative, but by week's end ITN's
graphic portrayal of what was interpreted as a 'Balkan Holocaust'
probably ensured that those shifts became irreversible. Those
shifts remain fundamental to policy to this day.
On 13 August the UN Security Council passed Resolutions 770 and
771, which for the first time authorised the international use
of force in Bosnia and promised to punish war criminals, the precursors
of the current international occupation of Bosnia and the International
War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. On the 14th, the United Nations
Human Rights Commission appointed former Polish Prime Minister
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a highly pious Catholic, as Special Rapporteur
for Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia, a position from which
he tended to target only Bosnian Serbs. And, on the 18th, Britain
reversed itself and pledged to send 1800 soldiers to Bosnia for
humanitarian aid operations, the first step towards what became
by mid-September a UNSC approved, enlarged UN Protection Force
mission in Bosnia--the seed that sprouted into IFOR and now SFOR.
Lost in the shuffle was any understanding of what was actually
going on in the camps, who ran them, and why. Official Washington
and the US press almost completely ignored an International Committee
of the Red Cross report issued on 4 August, describing ICRC visits
to 10 camps and their finding of blatant human rights violations
by all sides. And though the Serbs did indeed, as the ICRC said, run more camps, it was not disproportionately more.
In the rush to convict the Serbs in the court of public opinion,
the press paid no more attention to other, later reports throughout
the war, up to--and after--the Dayton agreement, of hellish Croat
and Muslim run camps. Nor did the press understand that each side
had strong incentives to hold at least some prisoners for exchanges.
Medieval xenophobes reincarnated as high-tech cowboys, Western
opinion leaders fixated their fear and anger against the unknown.
Defying reason and logic, a myth of a Serb perpetrated Holocaust,
coupled with the refusal to even acknowledge atrocities against
Serbs, became conventional wisdom. This was the first instance
and future model for post-modern imperialistic intervention to
determine the winner in a bloody civil war.
Washington loves to go to war in August. The florid atmosphere
of August 1992, though not (yet) exactly a shooting match, comprised
a more than satisfactory propaganda war, vaguely reassuring those
who lost their bearings with the end of the Cold War, together
with a new generation of journalists who needed a fraught, dirty
conflict on which to cut their teeth. Bosnia made excellent sport.
It is no surprise, after all, that the temptation for news organisations
to try to change policy, when they knew how easily they could,
These articles first appeared in LM 99