You are here:   Civilisation >  Screen > Minimising Massacres

Every great crime produces a great lie. The evidence from the journalists, survivors and later war crimes trials was overwhelming. But someone always has an interest in denying the undeniable. In the case of the Serbs' atrocities, the task of helping them fell to the Revolutionary Communist Party, a tiny group of media-savvy Trotskyists from the British far-Left. As with so many conspiracy theories, the "evidence" on which the RCP's magazine Living Marxism erected its vast conspiratorial fantasy was laughably slight. The wife of a German crank by the name of Thomas Deichmann decided that the barbed wire ITN had shot hung on the wrong side of the fence poles. (You are going to have to bear with me on this.) Rather than filming inmates from the outside looking in, ITN had filmed free men from the inside looking out.

The notion that imperialist Western journalists had invented an atrocity to justify Nato intervening to save the Bosniaks was too enticing to resist. Hundreds of left-wing websites took up the cause. The journalists' lives changed forever. Vulliamy's The War is Dead is part of a career-long struggle he has fought to speak honestly about the Serbian atrocities. For years, I have watched him across our newsroom arguing with 1001 varieties of lunatic and thought of H.L. Mencken's line, "for every nugget of truth, some wretch lies dead on the scrapheap". 

ITN was determined to defend its journalism, and sued for libel. It was not just picking a fight with the RCP. As Vulliamy explains so well, Serb nationalists, with real power, had every interest in propagating the lie. They wanted to avoid war crime charges, naturally. They also knew that the successful denial of past crimes makes the commission of future crimes all the easier. With an extraordinary credulity, the great and the good missed what was in front of their noses (not for the first time, you might say) and made the defence of the RCP a fashionable cause in the London of the late 1990s. Fay Weldon, Phillip Knightley and Harold Evans objected to ITN using the libel law against a small publication. Now, your correspondent has done what he can for the campaign for libel reform. I think it is fair to say that I am on the militant wing of the free speech movement. But neither I nor anyone I know believes there should be no libel law. Even in liberal America, public figures can still sue if an article either contains deliberate lies or is so full of wild falsehoods it might as well be a deliberate lie. The denial of the bestial nature of the Serb camps fitted that second category like a glove.

John Simpson was the most energetic of the RCP's establishment defenders. He offered to give evidence on its behalf, and praised its assertion that war reporting was not "objective". He took care to add that the Serbs' ethnic cleansing of Srebrenica had happened but minimised the atrocities in the camps by saying that inmates looked equally skeletal after their release. All for nothing. When a camp doctor appeared in the witness box to describe the horrors he had seen, the RCP folded. Its barrister did not even cross-examine him.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.