This appeal was published in the major German weekly, Die Zeit, on 11 July 1997, signed by writers, academics and intellectuals as a declaration of support for free speech, and for LM in our battle against ITN's libel writs
'Für das freie Wort'
In defence of Free Speech
Information is used for political ends, it is used to wield power and influence. Information may help people, it may help them to better grasp the world around them. The very same information may also be used to manipulate and to deceive. It is therefore crucial to draw information from reliable sources and to clarify the context of every piece of information, so the general public may be able to grasp and judge their real meaning.
Images are most prone to manipulation precisely because they create the impression that we can understand a situation by looking at a picture. To enable people to look critically at the world, it is essential for good journalism to ensure that issues and their context are looked at without any prejudice. Today this kind of professional ethos is more and more often brushed aside when dealing with information. In fact, the way journalists deal with information, especially pictures, can often be called unprofessional, if not manipulative.
A particularly scandalous example of this trend was recently revealed by the German Novo journalist Thomas Deichmann. During his research on the war in Bosnia, Deichmann came across evidence which proved that a famous picture showing emaciated Muslims behind a barbed wire fence, first broadcast by British news giant ITN in August 1992, was a distortion of reality. This picture, was then generally taken as hard evidence for the existence of Serb-run 'concentration camps'. In reality though, it was not the Muslims who were encircled by a barbed wire fence, but the British journalists who had entered a neighbouring, fenced-in compound to film the Muslims from inside that compound through the barbed wire.
The fact that there were camps in former Yugoslavia run by all factions involved in the fighting and where conditions were frequently bad, makes it all the more important to avoid encouraging a false or one-sided emotional atmosphere.
More than any other footage, this picture has influenced the perception of the war in Bosnia. Quite a few commentators, though,
have not even tried to discuss the importance of Deichmann's revelations on the state of journalism today, but have merely lashed out at them with a flood of denunciations and insinuations, abandoning a rational discussion. And ITN, instead of responding to (or disproving) Deichmann's allegations, launched a libel writ against LM magazine, which co-operates with Novo and published Deichmann's findings. The only purpose of this libel writ, it would appear, is to prevent the exploration of the truth and to ruin LM magazine.
The British libel laws are generally held to be the most repressive in the Western world. They provide rich and powerful institutions and people with a mechanism with which to gag unpleasant critics. Libel writs are notorious for the enormous costs involved and in contrast to other European countries and the USA, in Britain the burden of proof is upon the defendant. The present case is a novelty in media history: for the first time a news corporation is trying to use such repressive laws to suppress news.
We think that in our time of social change, unbiased analysis of facts and the rational sharing of ideas are indispensable. We wish, therefore, to initiate a public debate on how to oppose the trend of information manipulation and narrow-mindedness. We are, furthermore, serious defenders of press freedom and freedom of speech and we will do everything to ensure that the attempted intimidation by ITN will not be successful.
Research, travel expenses, news conferences and PR-work have already cost Novo several thousand marks. To go on with its work the magazine needs more donations and supporters. In the law suit between ITN and LM magazine we want the better arguments to win - not the side with the more expensive lawyers. To achieve this, we are asking you to sign this appeal and to donate as much as possible. There is more at stake than freedom of information - we have to continually struggle for rational and unprejudiced discussion in scientific, cultural and political debates.
Prof Dr Ulrich Albrecht; Prof Dr Astrid Albrecht-Heide; Elmar Altvater, university lecturer; Lothar Baier, author; Mira Beham, writer; Georg Benz; David Binder, journalist (US correspondent); Klaus Bittermann, publisher;
Prof Pierre Bourdieu, sociologist (Collège de France); Peter Brock, journalist (editor in chief The Real Washington, USA); Theo Christiansen, theologian; Edi Clijsters, journalist (Belgium); Dr Heinrich Comes, lawyer; Christoph Damm, trade unionist; Prof Dr Frank Deppe; Wolfgang Ehmke, teacher; Raimund Fellinger, writers' agent; Dr Hans Rudi Fischer, therapist; Miriam Fleischman, translator (France); Wolfgang Främke, educationalist; Prof Dr Peter Glotz; Dr Norbert Greinacher; Jens Hagen, author; Peter Handke, author; Rolf Hartzuiker, journalist (Netherlands); Detlef Hensche, trade unionist; Lutz Herden, journalist (Freitag); Christine Horn, journalist; Prof Dr Jorg Huffschmid; Hubertus Janssen, priest; Elfriede Jelinek, author; George Kenney, writer (USA); Dietrich Kittner, comedian; Prof Dr Reinhard Kühnl; Felicia Langer, lawer and writer (alternative Nobel Prize winner, 1990); Martin Lettmayer, journalist; Herbert Leuninger, priest; Prof Dr Birgit Mahnkopf; Marianne McGeehan; Jakob Moneta, journalist; Wolf-Dieter Narr; Catari Neth; Dr Jan Öberg, (Sweden); Gudrun Pausewang, author; Zarko Radakovic, translator; Prof Dr Dr Horst-Eberhard Richter, psychoanalyst; Renate Riemeck, university lecturer; Prof Dr Eberhard Schmidt; Martin Singe, secretary of Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie; Peter Singer, bio-ethicist (Australia); Sören Sommelius, journalist (Helsingborgs Dagblad, Sweden); Prof Dr Mommsen; Eckart Spoo; Johano Strasser, author (Secretary of PEN); Prof Dr Gerhard Stuby; Klaus Vack, civil rights activist; Prof Dr Marie Veit, theologian; Werner Vitt; Hans-Jochen Vogel, priest; Zeljko Vukovic, writer
Reproduced from LM issue 103, September 1997