It is 10 years this month since the London libel courts closed down LM magazine, leaving me as editor out of a job and facing a personal bill for around a million pounds in damages and costs, in one of the more outrageous attacks on a free press seen under Britain’s infamous defamation laws.
I have neither the energy nor inclination to refight old courtroom battles. We lost the case in court, correctly under the dire defamation law as it stands, and that was that. But it is perhaps worth glancing back to the wider issues surrounding the LM libel trial – not out of any misplaced nostalgia or wish to commemorate an anniversary for its own sake, but to see how the stand we took back then on the principle of free speech has been proved rather prescient by events over the past decade. (…)
The offending article concerned the infamous images, filmed by an ITN news team, of a very thin Bosnian Muslim behind barbed wire at a Bosnian Serb camp at Trnopolje in 1992. After ITN broadcast these evocative pictures it sparked international outrage about possible Nazi-style atrocities – ‘BELSEN 92’ as one British newspaper captioned them – that led to fervent demands for Western intervention in the civil war in the Former Yugoslavia.
Almost five years later, Deichmann’s investigative report into the background to those images argued that this was no Nazi-style death camp, and that in fact it had been the camera crew rather than the inmates who were surrounded by a barbed wire fence that made up part of an old agricultural complex adjoining the camp.
That central fact about who was ringed by the barbed wire was established in court and even acknowledged by the judge in his otherwise remarkably one-sided summing up against LM.
Nevertheless we lost, as defendants in British libel trials tend to do.