NUJ backs ABC reporter who refused to go to Iraq

By Sarah Lagan

The National Union of Journalists has agreed to throw its weight behind a campaign to help Richard Gizbert, who was sacked by ABC News for refusing to report in war zones.

ABC has appealed against an employment tribunal’s ruling that the London-based journalist had been unfairly dismissed for a reason related to health and safety. Gizbert faces escalating costs which have already left him in debt.

A motion was carried to ensure that the NEC works with the International Federation of Journalists to find ways to help fund Gizbert, a former member of the Canada-based Newspaper Guild, in his legal battle. This could include cash towards his legal costs.

Gizbert stressed to the conference how the judgment would affect not only war correspondents, but any journalist who faced dangerous situations.

He said: "You might well ask yourself, ‘What does this have to do with me and the NUJ?’ The answer is, even though this is a case of an American news organisation, it is being fought on British soil and therefore has implications for British case law. The tribunal ruled that the primary reason for my dismissal was my refusal to cover war zones, specifically Iraq.

"The precedent we are talking about relates to dangerous assignments, not just war zones. It would apply to coverage of a train derailment near Crewe, it could involve chemical weapons or those huge multiple explosions at the fuel tanks in Hemel Hempstead; same story.

"Up until today, ABC has been up against an individual who it can intimidate with all its money, but [now] it’s up against professionals who will stand and fight for this judgment and fight for this precedent because it affects all of us."

Gizbert accused ABC of using "delay tactics" and "scare tactics" and of driving up his costs, which are now 600 per cent higher than his lawyers originally estimated.

He added: "What ABC is saying on appeal is that the UK health and safety law should not apply to journalists who refuse assignments to war zones or dangerous places, but only to those who accept those assignments, then go to those war places, then decide that its dangerous, then come home and then get sacked.

"It’s an absurd argument, but sometimes absurd arguments win on appeal, especially if they are not defended properly."

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