Reproduced from LM issue 100, May 1997
Thomas Deichmann's revelations about ITN's award-winning reports from Trnopolje camp in Bosnia have already sparked off a storm of controversy and a major libel case against LM (see 'The Picture That Fooled the World', LM February). Now the German journalist has discovered another twist in the tale
'Exactly as it happened'?
The British reporters who entered the Bosnian Serb run Trnopolje camp on 5 August 1992 - Penny Marshall (ITN for News at Ten) Ian Williams (ITN for Channel 4 News) and Ed Vulliamy (Guardian newspaper) have always insisted that they gave a straight eye-witness account of all that they saw there. The famous sequence of pictures, first broadcast by ITN on 6 August 1992, shows Penny Marshall, filmed by her cameraman Jeremy Irvin, walking up to a barbed wire fence where, it appears, the first person she meets is the emaciated Fikret Alic, who subsequently became the global symbol of the Bosnian camps.
The images of Marshall shaking hands with Alic through the barbed wire were seen around the world as proof that the British news team had stumbled across Nazi-style concentration camps, run by the Bosnian Serbs. 'We were not prepared for what we saw and heard there', explained Marshall in her ITN report. In an interview conducted for a Channel 4 documentary in 1993, she said explicitly that her cameraman Irvin had 'filmed it exactly as it happened'.
Maybe he did film it 'exactly as it happened'; but that was not the way in which it was broadcast. There is clear and mounting evidence that the ITN reports from Trnopolje were edited and presented in a highly selective fashion. Tapes from a local TV crew, which accompanied and filmed the ITN journalists during their visit to Trnopolje, present a quite different account of what went on there.
The world-shaking ITN pictures of Penny Marshall approaching the barbed wire fence, behind which Fikret Alic and other Bosnian Muslims were apparently caged, were broadcast as three shots, edited together in such a way as to suggest an unbroken sequence. My previous report, published in the February issue of LM, has already revealed in detail that these pictures were not all that they seemed. The image of Alic imprisoned behind barbed wire was misleading, for the simple reason that it was not the Bosnian Muslims who were encircled by barbed wire, but the British journalists themselves. Marshall's team took those pictures from inside a small agricultural compound which was ringed by a barbed wire fence, erected long before the war. There was no barbed wire fence around Trnopolje camp. But by filming Alic and the others through the barbed wire of the compound fence, the British news team came away with pictures that the world wrongly interpreted as evidence of concentration camps in Bosnia.
The film taken by the local TV crew confirms my evidence about the way in which the pictures that fooled the world were taken. But it also raises new questions about the way in which ITN presented their version of events. What really happened when Marshall approached the barbed wire fence? Why was Fikret Alic smiling? How could it be that the first thing Marshall said was 'How long has he been here?'.
The Bosnian Serb TV crew's film of Marshall's trip shows that she did not just walk up to the barbed wire and encounter the emaciated Fikret Alic. She had spoken to several other Muslims through the fence before he appeared. A curious crowd of men standing inside the camp, but outside the area encircled by barbed wire, had gathered at the fence as the news team approached, eager to discover what was going on. Marshall spoke to one young man in a black t-shirt. Then, most notably, she and Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian talked for several minutes to a Bosnian Muslim named Mehmet, who appeared to be ushered forward because he spoke some English. Mehmet, dressed in blue dungarees with no shirt underneath, can be seen standing next to Fikret Alic in the famous ITN shot that went around the world.
The local TV crew's film shows Mehmet, in slightly awkward English, telling Penny Marshall that conditions in Trnopolje were 'very fine, nothing wrong, but it's very hot'. Marshall asked if they had to sleep outside. 'No, no, inside' he replied, pointing to the former community centre in the background; in his eye-witness report, broadcast on Channel 4 News the next day, Ian Williams stated that 'hundreds of men were forced to eat and sleep outside in a field behind barbed wire'.
Marshall asked Mehmet if the people at Trnopolje camp had treated him badly. No, he said, 'very kind'. He further explained that he had been brought to Trnopolje from his home 'with the bus', and that he was not a fighter. Marshall asked him if he felt safe there. 'I think it's very safe', replied Mehmet, 'but very hot'. Apparently dissatisfied with his answers, Marshall then indicated the young man in a black t-shirt standing next to Mehmet, pointing out that 'This man is very thin'. Mehmet replied: 'Yes, he is very thin but I think that all the people is not the same.' Mehmet, like many others in Trnopolje, did not look anything like the exceptionally emaciated Fikret Alic.
One of the British reporters then asked Mehmet whether Trnopolje camp was a prison. 'No, I think it is a refugee camp, not a prison', Mehmet replied. Next Ed Vulliamy asked the rather absurd question, given that they were in the middle of a war zone: 'If you wanted to get on a bus to Banja Luka could you do that this afternoon?' Mehmet responded that he believed it would depend on the 'civil government' and that he could not leave 'now'. Vulliamy pressed him again: 'You say you were taken from your home and brought here on the bus and you can't leave but you don't think it's a prison?' Mehmet shrugged: 'I think it is not a prison, it's a refugee camp.'
It was around this time that Fikret Alic first appeared in the background of the shot. He inched through the crowd towards the fence, curious like the others as to what was going on there, holding his t-shirt in his right hand. Another Bosnian Muslim pointed to Alic, who stood out because of his protruding ribs. Somebody in the British news team can be heard on the film pointing out 'the two very thin ones to the right'. Penny Marshall made eye-contact with Alic. From there on, the local TV crew's film shows what was broadcast by ITN: Fikret Alic smiled at Penny Marshall and came up to the fence, standing next to Mehmet, in whom the journalists were no longer interested. Marshall shook hands with Alic and asked her translator 'How long has he been here?'.
'Tell us the truth'
The sequence filmed by the local TV team raises further questions about what the ITN team really found at Trnopolje camp, and the editing that went on after the camp visit. Nothing of Penny Marshall's exchange with the English-speaking Mehmet which is outlined here was included in the ITN broadcast. Instead attention focused on the dramatically emaciated Fikret Alic. The very short bit of Marshall's interview with Mehmet which was broadcast gave a rather different impression of his whole statement: 'Tell us the truth' Marshall asked and Mehmet replied 'I am afraid'. That is all that was presented of Marshall's conversation with Mehmet in the ITN reports.
In 1993, Penny Marshall was interviewed for a Channel 4 documentary on the media and Bosnia, entitled 'Journalists at war'. In this unbroadcast exchange, Marshall was asked if she had filmed the Trnopolje report 'exactly as you found it? For example the barbed wire was quite prominent in the report. Was there barbed wire all around this camp or did you choose...?'. Marshall replied while watching the famous film on screen:
'We filmed it exactly as it happened. And this is extraordinary for me because I've worked with lots of different camera persons and this cameraman Jeremy Irvin was super in that he really did unfold. There was... a shot of me walking to the barbed wire... It just happened... It happened as it unfolded. That's where I walked up. I mean it's a huge area. I cannot tell you. That's where I walked up and there was barbed wire. I don't know what's behind the fence behind that house, because they wouldn't let us see it. But it's exactly as it happened. Exactly as it happened and chronologically and we didn't have time or anything to think about style....'
Marshall not only forgot to answer the question as to whether there was barbed wire all around the camp, she also seemed to have forgotten the actual sequence of events that occurred during her famous report from Trnopolje.
Penny Marshall was then asked if Fikret Alic was at the barbed wire when she got there, or whether he had been brought forward by the others. Marshall said: 'I can't honestly remember. But if you look at the shot you'll see. Yes he was at the wire. Yes I think, you'd have to look at the shot. They might have pushed him forward. I can't honestly remember....' Somehow Marshall had already forgotten the circumstances of her meeting with Fikret Alic just a few months before - the most important event of her career. All she could say was 'look at the shot'. But did she mean the shot that was actually taken at Trnopolje camp on 5 August 1992, or the selectively edited one that was broadcast by ITN in her report the following day?
The world saw Fikret Alic greet ITN's Penny Marshall, but in fact she had already talked at length to Mehmet, far right