Reporting Atrocity (2)

Discussion of the reporting of the war in Ukraine takes me back to a much more serious case of misinformation / disinformation in UK some years back. This concerned a libel of UK television reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams in an article published way back in February 1997.

The bare facts are that ‘Living Marxism’ a newspaper of a little known trotskyist group had published an article by the German journalist Thomas Deichmann casting doubt on the conditions experienced by Bosnian muslims in two Serb-run camps in Bosnia. The focus for the article was the claim that these reporters had deliberately misrepresented the image of an emaciated Bosnian muslim, Fikret Alic, to show him being caged behind barbed wire at Trnopolje camp, something achieved by careful use of ‘camera angles and editing’. In fact the article went on to argue the muslims in the camp were there for their own protection and free to come and go as they wished. The report ran under the headline ‘the picture that fooled the world’.The television journalists sued and the case finally made its way through court with a decision reached in March 2000.

It is not really clear to me why LM ran the story but it looked part of an unlikely morphing from a far left group to a more loosely aligned group of libertarians; part of this process seemed a desire to take up contrarian positions almost as a matter of principle, especially positions which would provoke the liberal left.   The verdict of the jury was clear: the journalists had been libelled and, unable to pay damages, the magazine folded. As far as I know no-one connected with the magazine LM apologised, quite the contrary. Yet this did not stop Thomas Dietrich or the publishers of LM from becoming media personalities, and in one case being a regular guest on the BBC. 


Discussion of these camps has remained a difficult issue in Serbia and the story of denial has run and run with a recent film on Serbian television again arguing that the camps were there to protect Muslims. In response Fikret Alic is reported as saying:

It is unfortunate to see that today some people make fun of our suffering and deny it, although personally I don’t pay too much attention to it, because I know what we lived through. This is not a matter of opinion, as our testimonies and the trials in British and Bosnia-Herzegovina courts confirmed. I think it would be good to punish the genocide deniers in order to look ahead to the future. And that requires a clear picture of what happened, and means facing the truth.

Source: Pita, A. (2022) Man whose harrowing image defined Bosnian conflict takes denialists to court.html El Pais 4 January 2022

For a detailed account of the trial and an exploration of media reporting try:

Campbell, D. (2002). Atrocity, memory, photography: Imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia–the case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part 1. Journal of Human Rights, 1(1), 1-33.

One journalist who reported on the camps but who was not part of the libel claim discussed his experiences nearer the time of the original report:

Vulliamy, E. (1997) I stand by my story, Observer, 2 February 1997.,,191236,00.html