He didn't want to risk his life in Iraq. Was he sacked for it?

By Caitlin Pike

ABC News correspondent Richard Gizbert will claim at a London
tribunal this week that he was sacked for refusing to cover the Iraq

The veteran foreign correspondent, who covered Somalia, Rwanda and
Chechnya, aims to prove that the American broadcaster dismissed him
after 11 years with the company because he refused to go to Iraq to
report on the war. Gizbert is claiming £2.2m in compensation.

tribunal is due to start on Friday (23 September) after being delayed
three times in the past year. The hearing is set to last six days.

believes the case has implications for broadcasters and journalists in
how Iraq is covered: “This case is not just about me.

Iraq is a
difficult prospect for broadcasters to contemplate and everyone in the
business knows it is not possible to do true reporting in Baghdad

“Broadcasters’ approach to staffing Iraq has to change –
you simply cannot ask typical correspondents to go on the same type of
rotation in Baghdad as you would have done in Sarajevo in 1994. It is a
completely different scenario, with journalists being viewed almost as
participants by insurgents,” Gizbert added.

An ABC spokesman said
its journalists were not forced to cover wars: “All war zones are
completely voluntary and we understand that this will be shown in this

Gizbert agrees ABC does have a voluntary war-zone policy
for its journalists based in the US, but claims a different set of
rules is applied to those working in its foreign bureau.

He said:
“As the Iraq war broke out, there were seven ABC crews working in
continental Europe, four of which were prepared to go to Iraq and three
who were not.

“There were four correspondents based in the ABC London bureau – three of whom went to Iraq and one, me, who would not go.

three camera crews in Europe [who refused to go to Iraq] no longer work
for ABC – their contracts were terminated, as was mine. I was replaced
by a journalist who agreed to go to Iraq.

“Crews working in
Europe also discovered that ABC paid danger money to staff in Iraq who
had been sent from the US, but not from Europe. It is as if war zones
are part of your job if you work for ABC abroad. These are not merely

Gizbert highlighted ITV News’ decision not to have
a permanent presence in Baghdad as a measure of the level of risk in
reporting the war. He said that even though news organisations went to
great lengths to protect their staff in Iraq as much as is possible, it
was perfectly understandable why some journalists would refuse to go

Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent and MP, has agreed to be an expert witness on Gizbert’s behalf.

Bell told Press Gazette: “I think this is an important case for all news organisations.

reporting is now qualitatively different from what it was when I was
doing the job. The risk then was mainly being caught in the crossfire,
whereas today journalists have become the target in conflicts and face
being kidnapped or executed.

“All news organisations must operate
voluntary war-zone policies – it would not be acceptable to dismiss
someone because they do not want to cover a war.”

Gizbert’s legal
team believes the case could set a significant precedent. They will
argue that health and safety protections provided under UK employment
law can, and should, apply to journalists who are employed in the UK,
but assigned to war zones in other countries.

The tribunal will also test the £55,000 cap that is usually put on unfair dismissal payouts.

this case, Gizbert is claiming his health and safety would have been
threatened by going to Iraq, and so the limit should not apply. The cap
is normally only exceeded in cases where race, gender, age or sexual
discrimination is involved.

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