Il caso LM / ITN - TELLING THE TRUTH, AND OTHER CRIMES
- Subject: Il caso LM / ITN - TELLING THE TRUTH, AND OTHER CRIMES
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- Date: Sat, 1 Apr 2000 17:12:06 +0200
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From: Coordinamento Romano per la Jugoslavia <crj at sigmasrl.it>
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Subject: Il caso LM / ITN
PERICOLOSO CERCARE DI CONTRASTARE LA DISINFORMAZIONE IN OCCIDENTE:
IL CASO DI "LIVING MARXISM" E DEL COLOSSO MEDIATICO ITN
Alcuni anni fa il giornalista tedesco Thomas Deichmann in un articolo
aveva svelato la truffa mediatica del campo di concentramento di
Trnopolje, presso Prijedor, nel quale i serbi avrebbero arbitrariamente
rinchiuso civili musulmani, tenendoli in condizioni di indigenza e
maltrattandoli. Nel suo articolo Deichmann sosteneva che i giornalisti
della ITN autori del principale reportage ad effetto su Trnopolje
avevano in realta' costruito un caso "a tavolino", tra l'altro chiedendo
ad un detenuto malato di sistemarsi dietro al filo spinato della
recinzione di una centralina elettrica per ottenere una foto che
destasse indignazione (sul caso si vedano:
L'articolo di Deichmann apparve originariamente su "Living Marxism"
(LM), e poi sulla stampa in Germania e sul libro, curato dall'IAC, "NATO
in the Balkans" (in italiano "La NATO nei Balcani", Editori Riuniti
1999). La vicenda viene anche egregiamente spiegata in un filmato
recentemente prodotto da Emperor's Clothes negli USA (si veda piu' sotto
per le modalita' di spedizione della videocassetta).
Evidentemente colta in fallo, la ITN dopo alcuni tentennamenti ha
provveduto a fare causa a LM. La causa e' stata vinta pochi giorni fa
NON perche' LM abbia scritto il falso, ma perche' non e' riuscita a
dimostrare "oltre ogni ragionevole dubbio" di aver detto il vero, e
cioe' che i giornalisti della ITN Penny Marshall e Ian Williams sono dei
bugiardi privi di ogni scrupolo, oltreche' privi di deontologia.
Cosicche' adesso LM rischia di chiudere. Deve infatti risarcire la ITN
con la bellezza di 375mila sterline... Un chiaro monito per chiunque
voglia mettere i bastoni fra le ruote ai signori della guerra a mezzo
SOLIDARIETA' CON "LIVING MARXISM"!
CONTRIBUIAMO ALLA SOPRAVVIVENZA DELLA RIVISTA!
> STOP NATO: NO PASARAN! - HTTP://WWW.STOPNATO.HOME-PAGE.ORG
> THE END OF LM MAGAZINE
> Statement by Mick Hume, editor
> On Tuesday 14 March, the High Court ordered the connections of LM
> magazine to pay ITN and two of its journalists a total of #375 000 in
> libel damages. The next day, we received a letter from ITN's lawyers,
> Biddle, demanding the money. Within a week they had sent another demand,
> with court order attached.
> As a consequence of this, Informinc (LM) Ltd, the company which
> publishes the magazine, is now having to go into liquidation, cease
> trading and make its employees redundant. Myself as editor, and Helene
> Guldberg as co-publisher, also face the threat of personal bankruptcy.
> The current April 2000 edition of LM will be the last monthly issue. We
> are trying to raise the finance to publish a final, bumper issue of LM
> in the summer, and go out with all guns blazing.
> The LM-initiated Institute of Ideas, a series of events planned to take
> place from June to July, will go ahead in partnership with major
> institutions in London, including the British Library, the Royal
> Institution, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Society of Arts,
> Tate Modern, and the Union Chapel Project. A new company, the Academy of
> Ideas, has been set up by Claire Fox to coordinate these events.
> We would like to thank all of our subscribers and Friends of LM for
> their support. They will be contacted directly about the implications of
> the magazine's closure.
> Anybody who can help to finance the final issue of LM should get in
> touch with Helene Guldberg on (020) 7269 9228.
> The LM Online website will continue to operate for the time being. As
> for the post-LM future of magazine publishing, watch this space.
From www.emperors-clothes.com - "JUDGEMENT" (Please forward!)
--- At last we have visual proof that the media lied about Yugoslavia
We have just finished production work on the English version of a stunning
new film - "JUDGMENT." It exposes the tricks used to concoct phony pictures
of a nonexistent Serbian 'death camp' in 1992. These doctored images --
especially the famous emaciated man behind barbed wire -- were broadcast
worldwide to dehumanize the Serbs. They led to the deaths of thousands
and great suffering for millions of human beings.
"JUDGMENT" PROVES THOSE PICTURES WERE CYNICAL FABRICATIONS.
We urge you: Buy this film today Give a copy to a friend who doesn't want to
believe the mass media would fabricate phony atrocity pictures. Show
this film on TV stations, show it to local organizations, get it reviewed in
local papers. It will change people's minds. It will change your mind.
TELLING THE TRUTH, AND OTHER CRIMES
Last week the British alternative magazine, LM, was fined over $500,000
US for libel. LM had printed a story that that charged British news station ITN
and reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams with fraud. LM said ITN
had faked the "death camp" pictures to demonize the Serbs.
The Judge in the libel case admitted that ITN might have made some
But he argued: the LM people weren't in Bosnia that day. So how could
LM be sure what was really happening there?
IN FACT another film crew was present the entire time. They filmed the
footage used in "JUDGMENT".
"JUDGMENT", proves LM was simply telling the truth. "JUDGMENT" proves
Penny Marshall lied. "JUDGMENT" shows how Marshall produced the picture that
fooled the world and justified a war.
The ITN crew visited a POW center and a refugee camp. By sheer luck they
were accompanied by a crew from Serbian television (RTS). The RTS crew
filmed the ITN crew at work. Using this RTS footage, a small Yugoslav
film studio has recreated the events of that day. Emperors-Clothes edited
the Yugoslav movie to produce the English language film, "JUDGMENT".
RTS is the TV station that NATO bombed in April, 1999, killing 20
The film is dedicated to those dead, whose murders began with the ITN
pictures. We say this because the images that Penny Marshall fabricated
in 1992 began the dehumanization of the Serbian people. ITN and Penny
Marshall laid the political basis for the bombing of the Bosnian loyalist
government and of Serbia itself a year ago.
WHAT THIS FILM PROVES
1) The Loyalist ("Serbian") Authorities were humane.
>From the pictures that ITN produced one would think that Marshall and her
crew had sneaked into a death camp and shot their film when nobody was
watching. Not so. The ITN crew visited two surprisingly casual and
humane locations. They were protected but not controlled by the loyalist
authorities whom they later compared to Nazi's.
2) Marshall KNEW the loyalists were humane.
She and the crew from RTS interviewed POWs', their wives, non-POW refugees, a
doctor, at least one red cross worker, the commander of the POW Center.
The film shows these interviews. Marshall simply suppressed this evidence
of humane treatment. Instead she staged some pictures. These were then
doctored to produce Nazi-like images for mass consumption. The height
of cynicism and dishonesty.
3) The refugees SAID they were treated decently.
Marshall is shown arguing with one refugee. She tries to coerce the man to
say something anti-Yugoslav. He refuses. "No, no," he protests vehemently.
"Not a prison. No, no. REFUGEE center. They treat us very kind. No,
no, very kind." Undeterred, Marshall used this very location to stage her
phony death camp shots.
4) Marshall staged the death camp sequence seen around the world.
She went out of her way to film from inside an awkward storage area.
Because one side had what she wanted: a fence, mainly chicken wire but
with a few strands of barbed wire at the top. Shooting through the barbed
wire, Marshall talked to refugees OUTSIDE the fence. She then doctored the
raw footage to produce false images of prisoners behind barbed wire.
5) Marshall and Ian Williams were filmed in the act of lying.
The amazing thing is -- the RTS people were filming a few feet away.
They caught the same shots from a slightly different angle. They got pictures of
Marshall, Ian Williams, a cameraman, a man holding a mike. You will see,
step by step, just how Marshall doctored her pictures to produce the look of
a Nazi death camp. That is, the film takes footage shot by RTS and then
proceeds to alter it, as you watch, producing the phony ITN photos of
This film will change people's minds.
It documents that Marshall and ITN have committed the worst crime
against humanity: they lied to millions of people in order to justify a war.
Order the film now for $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Show it to
everyone you can.
VHS TAPES NOW AVAILABLE (Prices on PAL and SECAM tapes as soon as
Base price, $19.95 plus $1 tax ONLY in Massachusetts
Cost including shipping and handling:
2-3 days within US - $25.00
1 day in Massachusetts - $26.00
Next day outside Massachusetts but within US add $11.00
Europe (5 days) $26.50
New Zealand, Australia and Japan (about 6 days) Total $30.00
Canada 2-3 days - $26.00
Rest of Asia, Africa, former Soviet Union, etc. - $22.00
(Special shipping available on request)
ORDER BY MAIL, BY SECURE SERVER OR BY PHONE
BY MAIL - send check and instructions to EMPERORS CLOTHES, PO Box
610-321, Newton, MA 02461-0321 Please state how you heard about the film.
BY PHONE - call 617-916-1705 from 8:30 am to 4:30 PM Eastern Standard
BY SECURE SERVER - go to http://emperors-clothes.com/howyour.html#donate
Pay the appropriate amount AS A DONATION. Then PLEASE email us stating
the amount donated and the number of films desired. Send the email to
emperors1000 at aol.com This must be done so we'll know your donation is to
pay for the film! Please also state how you heard about the film.
WE PRESENTLY HAVE FILMS IN STOCK. WE CAN REPLENISH STOCK WITHIN TWO
VIEW it. SHOW it to friends. MAIL IT to friends and relatives. SHOW
it to organizations, churches, unions, at schools. GET it on TV.
NOTE TO WEBSITES, MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS AND TV STATIONS: IF YOU
ADVERTISE THIS FILM YOUR ORGANIZATION CAN RECEIVE A COMMISSION FOR EVERY FILM YOU
HELP TO SELL. Drop us an email for details. Emperors1000 at aol.com. So far
the film is being distributed by emperors-clothes.com and antiwar.com. Care
to join us?
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2000 23:42:57 +0000
From: Philip Hammond <hammonpb at sbu.ac.uk>
Reply-To: "STOP NATO: NO PASARAN!" <STOPNATO at listbot.com>
Organization: South Bank University
To: "STOP NATO: NO PASARAN!" <STOPNATO at listbot.com>
STOP NATO: NO PASARAN! - HTTP://WWW.STOPNATO.HOME-PAGE.ORG
I imagine many people will have already seen the Thomas Deichmann
article; what you may not know is that Deichmann was in court today
(Friday) because of it, as was Mick Hume, the editor of the magazine
(LM, formerly Living Marxism) which originally published the story.
The libel suit brought by ITN is going through the High Court in London
at the moment, and will reach a conclusion soon. The judge is expected
to begin summing up early next week. If it is successful, ITN will
bankrupt the magazine, its publishers and editor.
For details of the case and some transcripts of court proceedings visit:
Interestingly, ITN appears to have lost a crucial videotape of the uncut
rushes from which the report was edited together -- an accident, of
Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2000 22:42:08 +0000
From: Philip Hammond <hammonpb at sbu.ac.uk>
Reply-To: "STOP NATO: NO PASARAN!" <STOPNATO at listbot.com>
Organization: South Bank University
To: "STOP NATO: NO PASARAN!" <STOPNATO at listbot.com>
STOP NATO: NO PASARAN! - HTTP://WWW.STOPNATO.HOME-PAGE.ORG
Peter Bein wrote:
> Can you notify us of the court ruling, Philip? Or will it be on the site you
> link to?
The verdict was today: ITN won, & was awarded damages amounting to
375,000 pounds. LM editor Mick Hume said:
'The only thing this court case has proved 'beyond reasonable doubt' is
that English libel law is a disgrace to democracy and a menace to a free
'As libel defendants, we were assumed to be guilty unless we could
prove our innocence. The court threw out all of our expert witnesses,
including John Simpson of the BBC and a leading QC. The judge's summing
up was so one-sided that it made ITN's overpaid barrister redundant. And
even though the central fact in our article concerning the position of
the barbed-wire fence in relation to the journalists has never been
seriously challenged, we could not win because the law demanded that we
prove the unprovable.
'We apologise for nothing. But we will not be appealing. Life is too
short, and other issues too important, to waste any more time in the
bizarre world of the libel courts.
'As I told the judge and jury, I believe in the right of people to
judge the truth for themselves in the court of public opinion. What we
are allowed to read or hear should not be dictated by ITN, their
lawyers, or even the High Court.
'The future of LM magazine is now uncertain. But we are not going away,
and we will not keep quiet about the concerns that led us to publish
Thomas Deichmann's article and, reluctantly, to fight this case: freedom
of speech, journalistic standards, and the exploitation of the
'We would like to thank all those who have supported our stand
for free speech over the past three years, and our legal team led by Gavin
Millar, who won everything except the verdict.
'In the meantime, if anybody needs a hard-working editor or has
some cash to invest in an exciting magazine project....'
In due course, further details may become available at
http://www.informinc.co.uk/itn-vs-lm/court/index.html, but the site has
closed down for the moment.
Needless to say, the verdict is a blow for the truth about Bosnia, as
well as free speech. ITN has always admitted Trnopolje was not a
Nazi-style concentration camp: but when its pictures were broadcast
around the world as evidence that it was, ITN did not contradict this
impression. ITN has also not contested Deichmann's revelation that the
'camp' was not surrounded by barbed wire, as it seemed to be in the
reports. That's British justice for you...
SUPPORT LM Magazine!
(please forward this message as much as you can!)
There is a little book written by Mr. Michael Hume, the editor of LM,
called "Whose war is it anyway? The dangers of the Journalism of
Attachment." If you have not read it, you can get it via LM web page
(it's about $7 -£5 and you would be supporting them against the libel with
ITN). I will quote some paragraphs:
"Srebrenica became one of the world media's favourite symbols of Serb
aggression and Muslim suffering after the town was besieged by Bosnian
Serbs in 1993. Since Srebrenica fell in 1995 horror stories of massacres
and alleged mass graves have filled the news. Yet who can recall seeing
reports of the events which led up to the Serb assault on Srebrenica?
Between April 1992, when the war in Bosnia began, and January 1993,
muslim forces drove almost every Serb out of Srebrenica town, while 50
nearby Serbian villages were burned down and many of their inhabitants
killed. By March 1993, 1200 Serbs are estimated to have been killed and
about 3000 wounded, in this small corner of eastern Bosnia. (These events
were the subject of Clive Gordon's award-winning documentary, "The
Unforgiving", Channel 4 UK, August 1993)
"Yet it was only when the ragtag local Serb army started to mobilise to
push the Muslim back to Srebrenica and away from nearby Bratunac that
the conflict hit the headlines. Suddenly journalists were flocking to get to
the besieged Muslim enclave, having largely ignored the previous attack on
Serbs. The Muslims of Srebrenica and the Serbs of Bratunac both suffered.
But while many in the West have heard of Srebrenica, who has heard of
Francisco Javier Bernal
PS: The Merchandise page of LM's site can be found at
The Times (London), 17 March 2000
After ITN's libel victory this week over LM magazine Mick Hume, its
Editor, says the law is a menace to a free press
Victory: ITN reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams
(Photograph: MICHAEL WALTER/PA)
Spare any change guv?
On Tuesday the High Court ordered the connections of LM magazine to pay
ITN and two of its journalists a total of #375,000 in libel damages. On
Wednesday we received a letter from ITN's lawyers, Biddle, demanding to
know when we are going to send them the money. Umm, can I owe you until
I get paid at the end of the month?
Forget about the big bill for legal costs, those damages are more than
enough to bankrupt the cash-strapped defendants: myself as Editor, LM's
co-publisher Helene Guldberg, and the publishing company. As I said on
the steps of the court, what this case has proved "beyond reasonable
doubt" is that English libel law is a disgrace to democracy and a menace
to a free press. The use of that law by a large news organisation
against a magazine with a circulation of 10,000 could have far-reaching
implications for independent and investigative journalism.
Under the libel law, we were assumed to be guilty unless we could prove
our innocence - the reverse of natural justice. Little wonder that only
one in ten libel defendants wins in court.
At the pre-trial review, Mr Justice Morland ruled that none of our
expert witnesses - including John Simpson of the BBC, the writer Phillip
Knightley and a leading QC - could give evidence. So when the case came
to trial, there were 18 ITN witnesses versus me and Thomas Deichmann,
the German author of the article in question, published in LM three
years ago. Presumably that is what the law means by "a level playing
field". Even when our barrister, Gavin Millar, scored heavily in
cross-examination, it did not seem to make any difference to the court.
As the BBC's Nick Higham reported on the evening of the verdict:
"Summing up, Mr Justice Morland told the jury that LM's facts might have
been right, but he asked, did that matter?"
That summing up was so one-sided that it made ITN's barrister redundant.
It reached its nadir when, having quoted extensively from ITN witnesses,
the judge told the jury that he was not going to mention anything that I
or Mr Deichmann had said, because we were not at Trnopolje camp in
northern Bosnia on August 5, 1992. But if eyewitness accounts cannot be
challenged after the event, where does that leave critical journalism?
Advising the jury on damages, the judge said that somebody who lost both
arms in an accident might receive compensation of #100,000, so awarding
the ITN journalists more than #150,000 each for their hurt feelings
would be "excessive". He also said that damages would be aggravated if
the defence had strenuously cross-examined the claimants. The more
robustly we defended ourselves, the higher price we would have to pay.
As a champion of the jury system, I do not blame the jurors who voted
against us after four hours of deliberation. We could not win because
the law demanded that we prove the unprovable - what was going on in the
ITN journalists' minds eight years ago. We have apologised for nothing
but we are not going to appeal. Life is too short to waste any more
time in the bizarre world of the libel courts. The dust-and-wood-polish
atmosphere of Court 14 is no place for journalists to debate important
issues. As I said in the witness box, I believe that people should have
the right to judge the truth for themselves in the court of public
The future of our magazine is on the line. Those who know LM will
appreciate that we do not intend to go quietly into the night. Whatever
happens, the attempt to set a new agenda for discussion will carry on.
The LM-initiated events planned for the summer - the month-long
Institute of Ideas and the debates at the Edinburgh festivals - will go
ahead. There is life after a libel trial.
In the meantime, if anybody needs a hard-working editor or has some
money to invest in a magazine that stands up for free speech ...
Mick Hume is the Editor of LM magazine and a Times columnist.
Observer, Sunday March 19, 2000
Richard Ingrams' week
Grub St winds around the Inns of Court
Miss Penny Marshall, the ITN journalist who won #150,000 in a libel
action last week against the obscure left-wing magazine, Living Marxism,
or LM as it now calls itself, must have led a very sheltered life. In
the course of her evidence she said that the libel had upset her 'more
than anything that ever happened to me'.
Such evidence of extreme sensitivity on the part of a journalist comes
as no surprise to me, because it is a sad fact that a large number of
those who bring libel actions and then talk in this way in the witness
box are members of my own so-called profession.
Over the years I have had to listen to scores of journalists bearing
their sensitive souls before the jury. I remember, in particular, the
late Nora Beloff, once the political correspondent of this paper,
describing her deep shock and horror when Auberon Waugh wrote in Private
Eye that she had been to bed with every member of Harold Wilson's
Cabinet, though he added: 'No impropriety occurred.'
More shocking perhaps is the apparent belief of hacks that a victory in
the libel courts represents a complete vindication of their motives or
that the truth of any matter is best decided ultimately by a judge and
jury. You have only to call to mind the various rogues and scoundrels
who have won huge damages in recent years to realise that truth is the
very last thing to come out of a libel action.
As to the ITN report from Bosnia that caused all the trouble, I find the
picture of two smiling journalists on the Law Court steps, richer now
between them by #300,000, rather more shocking than the picture of
emaciated Muslims in a Serb detention camp.
Guardian, Saturday March 18, 2000
Lies and libel
As the Irving and ITN cases show, the court is no place to establish the
Whatever the verdicts, neither action should have been brought. Whatever
the rights and wrongs in either case, the two libel actions which ended
in London this week show yet again how harsh and obscurantist our libel
In the suit brought by Penny Marshall and Ian Williams of ITN, the jury
awarded the plaintiffs heavy damages against the magazine LM. The even
weirder action brought by David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and her
publisher was heard by a judge without a jury. Judgment is reserved and
will be given later.
Both cases ostensibly concerned history and truth. The ITN reporters
claimed that LM had accused them of fabricating a story about the Serb
concentration camp at Trnopolje in Bosnia. Irving says Lipstadt had
accused him of being a "Holocaust denier". While we await the Irving
result, Marshall and Williams claim they have now been vindicated. But
Whether or not they should have been, neither case could have been
brought in the United States, not since an historic judgment a
quarter-century ago. A broad public-interest defence was extended so
that it is very difficult for a public figure - which plainly includes
the ITN reporters and Irving - to sue for libel.
So far from any such protection for the media, our own libel laws are
heavily stacked against the defendant. A plaintiff doesn't have to prove
any material loss, only that feelings have been hurt and reputation
damaged, something easy to assert but impossible either to quantify or
refute in court. Uniquely in law, the burden of proof is on the
defendant, who has to prove the truth of what was written.
Admirers of the law, like the late Lord Goodman, speciously say that
truth is an absolute defence. But exact truth is likewise very difficult
to demonstrate in court, and an attempt to do so may well be held to
aggravate the libel. As a result, the mere threat of libel is too often
used to silence a newspaper which understandably prefers the discretion
of an apology to the valour of a defended action. If a brazen or frankly
perjurious plaintiff has strong enough nerves, he can push all the way.
Neil Hamilton might have got away with it, Jonathan Aitken nearly got
away with it, and Jeffrey Archer actually did get away with it.
Not that this is a party-political question. One of the most shameful
of all such cases was the "Venetian blind", as it was jocosely known in
the Labour party. In 1957, an article in the Spectator skittishly
suggested that three Labour politicians had been drinking a good deal at
a Socialist conference in Venice. The three, Aneurin Bevan, Richard
Crossman and Morgan Phillips, sued, testified on oath to their sobriety,
and won large damages. Fifteen years later, Crossman boasted (in my
presence) that they had indeed all been toping heavily, and that at
least one of them had been blind drunk.
Apart from questions of truth and falsehood, the latest cases illustrate
the sheer oppressiveness of a law which can be used to punish or even
ruin a foe. Whatever the outcome, it is outrageous that Deborah
Lipstadt should have to give up years of her life to this case, and
spend many weeks in court, with nothing to gain.
While Irving has conducted his own case, the defendants retained the
usual array of solicitors, silk and junior. It has been obvious from the
start that Irving couldn't pay his opponents' costs if he lost. He can
only declare himself bankrupt and leave Lipstadt and Penguin with a bill
more likely in seven figures than six. What is the legal concept of the
vexatious litigant for if not to prevent such an abuse?
If anything, the other case was almost worse, and not just because of
the sight of a huge, rich news organisation using the law to crush a
tiny magazine, however cranky or even obnoxious. It's not often that
Noam Chomsky, Roy Greenslade and Auberon Waugh can be found on the same
side, but their round-robin letter saying that freedom of speech and
media criticism have been curtailed by the ITN case is surely correct.
According to Richard Tait, the editor-in-chief of ITN, the case was
necessary to defend the integrity of the two reporters, and according to
Ed Vulliamy "the law now records that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams
(and myself for that matter) did not lie but told the truth". These
claims are frankly absurd.
Personally (though I don't have to add a rhetorical "Am I alone ...?",
since I know I am not), my view of Bosnia, ITN and LM has been in no way
whatever affected by the case. If anything, I think the less of the
plaintiffs than before, not to say of David Irving. If there are
historical disputes about Auschwitz or Trnopolje, a law court is the
worst possible place to conduct them.
Does Vulliamy seriously believe that our libel courts always establish
the truth? And are Marshall and Williams really happy to find
themselves alongside Lord Archer, of whom the law also once recorded
that he did not lie but told the truth?
The best outcome of these wretched proceedings would a reform of the
law. It is too much to hope that the burden of proving the falsehood of
a statement should be placed on the plaintiff. But there should be a
much broader public-interest defence, and the law of libel - written
defamation - should be assimilated to the law of slander, spoken or
fleeting defamation, in which the plaintiff has to prove actual damage
or material loss.
The trouble is that a reform would have to be introduced in parliament.
And, as the names of Aitken and Archer, not to say Bevan and Crossman,
remind us, politicians have all too much partiality to the existing law.
So we will be stuck with a law which grossly infringes free speech while
producing no real winners. Apart from the lawyers, that is, who have
enjoyed the real victories these past weeks.
As Ogden Nash so well put it: "Professional people have no cares -
Whatever happens, they get theirs."
Question and be damned
The case of ITN vs LM only goes to show that it doesn't pay to challenge
By Helene Guldberg, LM's Publisher
The Independent, 21 March 2000
In an article headlined "ITN sued journalists to strike a blow for free
speech", published in the Daily Telegraph on 17 March, Richard Tait, the
editor-in-chief of ITN, argues that "attempts to ruin the reputations of
honest journalists are a far greater threat to freedom of speech than
the use of the law to protect those who have been libelled".
In summing up, ITN's silk Tom Shields argued that the recognition in
law of the importance of reputation indicates the democratic nature of
our society. So, in this case, has English libel law struck the correct
balance between the right to a reputation and the right to free speech?
First, let's get some things straight. It has been suggested that there
was a campaign orchestrated by LM magazine against ITN and its two
journalists, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, and that this is why ITN
felt compelled to sue LM. There was no such campaign. There was an
article - "The picture that fooled the world" - published in February
1997 and there was a press release. Both were critical of the two
journalists concerned, and many of Ms Marshall's colleagues subsequently
phoned her enquiring about the allegations. These phone calls were cited
in the witness box as evidence of the distress she suffered. But all
that has happened is that the journalists' actions in relation to a
particular news broadcast have been criticised. As Thomas Deichmann, the
author of the article, said outside the High Court: "The job of
journalists is to investigate and criticise. If they cannot stand the
heat without running to the High Court, they should get out of the
Journalists, more than most, have means to rebut allegations they feel
are unjust. Ian Williams and Richard Tait have had articles published
since their libel victory. Could they not have done so in 1997 rather
than taking legal action? The use of libel law as a last resort may be
understandable, when all other avenues have failed. As a first resort,
it is inexcusable.
If LM magazine went running to the High Court whenever libelled, we
would be multimillionaires by now (as would many other journalists).
Were we foolhardy to risk our future by taking the principled stance of
refusing to back down and apologise? ITN has since suggested that it
offered us a way out back in September 1997. But the truth is that ITN
gave us no other option. Before even having read the article, ITN
instructed its solicitors to demand we apologise, destroy all copies of
the magazine and pay costs and damages. ITN dragged us to court. It was
prepared to waive damages; but it still demanded that we apologise in
Open Court and in our magazine, as well as footing ITN's legal bill,
which we could have hardly afforded then. In the end, the journalists
were awarded "aggravated damages" for the additional "hurt" of being
subjected to strenuous cross-examination - amounting to a total of
Within 24 hours of the verdict a letter arrived from ITN's solicitors
stating any delay in payment would entitle them to interest. But setting
damages and interest aside, ITN's legal bill alone could bankrupt the
magazine's publishing company, Mick Hume and myself. As many
commentators pointed out last week, the High Court is not the best place
to establish the truth of allegations. The odds are overwhelmingly in
favour of those who sue - therefore having a chilling effect on free
speech. It is presumed that the defamatory statement is false - and the
burden falls on the defendant to prove its truth - a reverse burden of
proof that is almost unique to English libel law. The defendant not only
has to defend the literal meaning - but also possible interpretations or
unintended meanings. It is no wonder defendants only have a one in 10
chance of success!
In Court 14 last week the jury was asked: "Have the defendants
established that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams had compiled television
footage which deliberately misrepresented an emaciated Bosnian Muslim,
Fikret Alic, as being caged behind a barbed-wire fence at the
Serbian-run Trnopolje camp on 5 August 1992 by the selective use of
videotape shots of him?" And the word "deliberately" was emphasised by
the judge. The answer from the jury was "no". In other words, we were
unable to prove what went on in the journalist's heads. In his summing
up, the judge said: "Clearly Ian Williams and Penny Marshall and their
television teams were mistaken in thinking they were not enclosed by the
old barbed-wire fence, but does it matter?"
The implications of this trial for journalism are far-reaching. If
journalists' reputations and feelings are more important than a free
press then the message is not to question the word according to
reporters. If libel is the guarantor of free speech and democracy, then
journalism is the tame creature of bland inoffensiveness.
--------- COORDINAMENTO ROMANO PER LA JUGOSLAVIA -----------
RIMSKI SAVEZ ZA JUGOSLAVIJU
e-mail: crj at sigmasrl.it - URL: http://marx2001.org/crj
------- End of forwarded message -------