LM Contents:


10 Sandy of Afghanistan Eddie Veale

12 How media misinformation led to Bosnian intervention George Kenney


Threats, writs and videotape

ITN's desperate attempt to use the libel laws to gag LM magazine is setting new standards of censorship and scaremongering.

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 over.)

  • 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 of LM'.

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 battle.

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 writ.

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 to hide.

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

ITN's film

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 is

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 towards Bosnia.

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


'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.'

ITN's Sandy Gall

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 lacking.

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 camps.

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, was overwhelming.