'Iraq refusal has damaged my career,' claims Gizbert

The London-based ABC news correspondent sacked for refusing go to Iraq said his refusal to go to the war zone had also severely affected his chances of getting other news jobs.

Judgment was reserved after a twoday employment tribunal hearing in London to decide how much compensation Richard Gizbert deserves.

Gizbert said: “Obviously I am disappointed that we weren’t able to come to a decision today, but this is a conscientious tribunal that, from the outset, has taken this case very seriously.

“They took two-and-a-half months to issue the previous judgment. Tribunal members are clearly interested in the case and are asking good questions.

However disappointing it is, we are not to be surprised that they want to take the proper time.” In its ruling, issued in December last year, a tribunal found that Gizbert’s refusal to cover Iraq and other war zones was one of the primary reasons for his unfair dismissal from ABC.

Gizbert said that since leaving ABC he had found it difficult to gain a job as he was “fishing in a pool that probably contains only 15 or 16 jobs in London given my North American accent”.

He added: “My unwillingness to go to Iraq would severely limit my ability to work for the type of news organisation that I had been working with for the past 25 years.” Gizbert said he was told by television network NBC that it had no shortage of people in its London bureau who were

unwilling to go to Iraq, so it did not make sense to hire yet another correspondent who would not want to cover that assignment.

ABC said in a statement: “When it comes to agreeing assignments to war zones and other dangerous places, it has always been our policy that these assignments are completely voluntary.” Gizbert’s claim for compensation, which according to one source could exceed £2m, centred on his argument that he would have continued to receive yearly $100,000 (£53,774) freelance contracts if he had not been fired.

He argued that in 1993, when he started at ABC, 13 correspondents covered Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

By 1994, when he left, the number had been almost halved to seven, he said, so each correspondent had far more work to do.

According to ABC, Gizbert’s dismissal was part of cost-cutting measures and not because of his refusal to go to war.

The network said: “News coverage is a highly competitive industry and, like other news operations, ABC News has had to re-examine the way it does business over the past few years to ensure it is covering the news in the most effective and efficient manner.” Former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell, who was Gizbert’s expert witness during the first hearing, said it was a landmark case and he believed all news organisations were watching it closely.

According to Bell, war zones are “qualitatively” more dangerous than they used to be and therefore there had to be “the discretion to decline an assignment”.

He said: “It is Richard Gizbert, one individual, against the might of Mickey Mouse essentially.

“We knew it was all up for ABC when they were bought by Disney. We all said: ‘Wow, this really is Mickey Mouse television.’ “They have a huge corporation behind them. I think they have done themselves a lot of damage by resisting this.” ABC said it was “very disappointed with the original tribunal decision” and has filed an appeal against it.

Gizbert is currently producing a world media review programme, Listening Post, for Al Jazeera International.

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