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The truth about LM

Seen all the recent allegations about LM magazine in the papers? Mick Hume sets the record straight

1.'LM is funded by the Serbs/big business/the far right/ a South African millionaire/the bogeyman'

In public our accusers are always careful only to imply that LM has secret and suspect financial links. Richard Tait, editor-in-chief of ITN, winks that the supposedly 'poor' LM is really a 'glossy and apparently well-funded magazine' (Times, 23 October). Guardian columnist George Monbiot notes that, despite its small size, the 'professional...glossy' magazine 'seems to have no shortage of money' (Prospect, November). Nick Cohen of the Observer calls LM 'corporate Marxists' and hints that 'the links with the corporations are not merely ideological' (25 October).

In private, however, LM's critics allow their imaginations to run free, spreading all manner of rumours about exactly where our money comes from.

Why have they so far fought shy of making their damning allegations in print, instead using 'glossy' as a code word? Because nobody has ever been able to produce a scrap of real evidence to substantiate these claims.

LM is an independent magazine not tied to any political party in the UK. (The Revolutionary Communist Party, which originally published the magazine as Living Marxism, was wound up by its members and the revamped LM was launched in February 1997.) While LM would welcome financial donations from any freedom-loving individual, it is not funded by any foreign party or government, nor by the 'loony right', big business, a South African millionaire or any of the other rumoured dodgy sources.

If anybody can publish conclusive proof to the contrary, I will pay double the amount they find into their personal bank account.

Contrary to the impression given by Tait and Monbiot, LM is always short of money. (Ask our underpaid skeleton staff, or our contributors, none of whom receives a penny.) The libel case brought against LM by ITN has already cost us around £50 000 of hard-raised funds.

LM survives because, in addition to normal sales and our successful events, people who believe in what the magazine is trying to do make regular donations to keep it going. If you want to become a Friend of LM, see the inside front cover. We need all the Friends we can get.

2.'LM is in league with the far right'

We have long been told that George Monbiot has done serious research to support this allegation. As far as I can tell, the evidence he has dug up is: i) Ron Arnold, an American libertarian who wrote one article for LM last year (and another in this issue) is, among other things, vice president of the Centre for the Defence of Free Enterprise; ii) two more frequent LM contributors who appeared in the Channel 4 documentary series Against Nature last year 'rubbed shoulders with' three right-wing American libertarians - that is, they were in the same film, although their shoulders never actually touched; iii) errr, that's it.

Contrary to Monbiot's assertion, LM has no 'association with overtly right-wing organisations'. What the magazine does have, however, is an open-door policy on contributors; if they have something interesting to say, we will consider publishing them. I do not accept responsibility for all of their ideas and affiliations, any more than the editor of the Guardian or Observer would for their contributors. It is a worrying sign of the times that LM's commitment to open debate should now be considered extreme.

One reason why LM publishes the occasional article by right-wing libertarians is because, as James Heartfield recently argued, 'the special contribution of the left in politics today is a diatribe against individual freedom' ('A free country?', November). The fact that we have to get somebody like Ron Arnold to criticise the anti-human strain in environmentalism should surely embarrass the authoritarian left, not LM.

3.'LM is behind lying TV documentaries'

The three-part documentary series Against Nature, broadcast last year on Channel Four, features in all of the recent anti-LM articles and rumours. The allegation is that what Nick Cohen calls 'the LM gang' was somehow responsible for these programmes, which supposedly broadcast lies about the green movement, for which the producers were roundly condemned by the Independent Television Commission.

The Against Nature series did raise a lot of interesting criticisms of environmentalist ideas, which predictably had many greens up in arms. George Monbiot claims that 'in response to thousands of complaints' the ITC handed down a 'damning' ruling. In fact the ITC's own summary records 'complaints from 151 viewers (4 upheld)'. The four upheld were from environmentalists who appeared in the programmes, who complained that they had been selectively quoted and had not been told that the series would be critical of their views.

It is possible to adopt different views on a series like Against Nature. One thing for certain, however, is that for better or worse, LM's input into it was nil.

Anybody who has read LM will know that the magazine is never shy of broadcasting its point of view, however controversial. The notion that LM would somehow hold back from publicising itself, or would deny it was responsible for a TV series that it had made, is truly bizarre.

Why, demand Monbiot and his echo Cohen, did the pro-grammes not announce that Frank Furedi (who appeared as author of Population and Development) and John Gillott (who appeared as author of Science and the Retreat from Reason) also contribute articles to LM? One might just as well ask why the Observer does not declare Nick Cohen's association with Roy Hattersley's think-tank Catalyst before publishing his column each week. Perhaps nobody should be allowed to appear in the media without first answering the question, 'Are you, or have you ever been, a contributor to LM?'.

4.'LM is pro-Serb'

The critics claim that I am embroiled in a libel case with ITN because of our contributors' efforts to, in George Monbiot's words, 'explain away Serb atrocities in the pages of LM'. In fact LM has never sought to 'explain away' anything. Nor has the magazine ever taken anybody's side in the civil conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

'The picture that fooled the world', published in the February 1997 issue of LM, raised important questions about ITN's award-winning pictures of an emaciated Bosnian Muslim, apparently caged behind a barbed-wire fence in the Bosnian Serb-run Trnopolje camp in August 1992. The central reason why we published Thomas Deichmann's article, and have stood by it in the face of ITN's libel writs, has little to do with the Serbs or Bosnia as such.

Rather, the article (and subsequently the case) has provided a focus for LM's concerns about two broader issues: the way in which the drawing of inappropriate parallels between the Second World War and the Bosnian conflict risks belittling the unique horrors of the Holocaust; and the degradation of journalistic standards in war reporting.

As for the Herr Deichmann, he may be, as Monbiot says, 'an engineer by training, not a journalist'; but 'The picture that fooled the world' is a great investigative story of which even a former fellow of Green College, Oxford like George could be proud.

For the article and everything else you could want to know about the libel case, see the website at http://www.informinc.co.uk/ITN-vs-LM/

5.'LM is "well written and cleverly edited"' (Guardian)

Guilty as charged.

The reluctant plaintiff

When ITN served LM magazine with a writ for libel at the end of January 1997, editor-in-chief Richard Tait's message on his staff noticeboard announced that, 'We are taking legal action against LM and look forward to confronting Mr Deichmann and the magazine in a court of law over their outrageous allegations'.

But as the months have gone by ITN appears less keen. Since the writ effectively squeezed the story out of the British press, the plaintiffs have done little to press their action on. Indeed, looking at the delays and diversionary tactics employed, one might even be forgiven for thinking that the crusading corporation is reluctant to go to court.

The first delay was the late serving of the Statement of Claim - an important document which outlines the exact charge against the defendant. ITN, however, was unable to spell out its complaint against LM for weeks because one of the journalists involved 'was on holiday in the Far East, and thereafter involved in the coverage of the death of the Chinese leader in Beijing' (Letter from ITN's solicitors, Biddle & Co, 28 February 1997). While waiting for the Statement of Claim, ITN's lawyers did manage to scare off LM's printers with the threats of a libel writ and also had time to sue Two Ten Communications - the newswire company that ran LM's press release.

The Statement of Claim, however, was positively speedy in compari- son to the time it took for the plaintiff to serve the Reply to LM's Defence. On 15 May 1997 ITN's lawyers requested an extension of four weeks due to the fact that their 'clients need to cover the general election'. The Reply eventually arrived three months late on 14 July 1997. But rather than replying to the particulars outlined in LM's Defence, ITN's document cited 20 pages of 'evidence' - mainly old magazine articles - that LM magazine was 'actuated by malice'.

On 19 September 1997 ITN approached LM to settle the case but only on the basis that the defendants promise never to repeat the allegation, apologise in open court and pay the plaintiffs' costs. When LM refused to give in, the case effectively went to sleep for the winter. Despite a summons hearing in September 1997, where the court laid down dates for exchange of documents and statements, all deadlines were missed by many months. Documents were not exchanged until spring 1998. LM was never given a clear explanation as to why ITN found it so hard to copy videotapes and photocopy articles.

When LM's solicitor suggested a new date for exchange of witness statements in June 1998, ITN asked for a further delay because its witnesses 'are, unfortunately, scattered around the globe at present (South Africa, Russia, Far East)' (1 July 1998). To date there has been no movement. It seems to take a lot longer than 80 days for ITN journalists to circumvent the globe.

And when LM's lawyers recently pressed the plaintiffs for further and better particulars of their Reply, ITN refused to answer LM's questions. The fact that nearly two years on ITN refuses to clarify its attitude to an essential point - namely whether or not its journalists, rather than the Bosnian Muslims, were behind the barbed-wire fence - means that the precise nature of the case against LM remains unclear. At the time of writing LM is threatening ITN with a summons if the particulars are not provided. We could even become one of the few defendants to go to court to make the plaintiff sue us.

Helen Searls

Reproduced from LM issue 116, December 1998/January 1999

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