War reporter refusenik tells tribunal: 'ABC bosses lied'

By Caitlin Pike

Former ABC correspondent Richard Gizbert – who refused to report
from Iraq – claimed at a London tribunal this week that his contract
was not renewed so the company could replace him with someone “who
would go to war zones”.

ABC, however, said Gizbert was axed because the US broadcaster had to meet a “major budget challenge”.

who was sacked in June 2004, had worked as a foreign correspondent for
ABC for nine years when he made the decision that he no longer wanted
to report from war zones, having previously covered Rwanda, Chechnya,
Somalia and Bosnia. He worked as a freelance for ABC for a further two
years until he was sacked.

Giving evidence, Gizbert recounted a
brief meeting on 9 June last year at which ABC’s London bureau chief
Marcus Wilford told him his contract would not be renewed. Gizbert said
he asked him, “Why not?” to which he claims Wilford replied: “We are
terminating your contract and will be replacing you with someone who
will go to war zones.”

Wilford, reading from his witness
statement, told the tribunal: “I do not recall if I mentioned war zones
in that meeting.” Wilford then said he “definitelyhad not mentioned war

Gizbert told the tribunal he found it difficult to
believe Wilford could not recall what he had said in the meeting: “I’ve
been a reporter for 25 years and am trained to remember what is said
either in the field or in a meeting with executives that determines my
future. Marcus is an outstanding producer, a real asset to ABC, but
he’d be the first to tell you he is not a details man. I remember what
was said.”

He added that he regretted the effect the tribunal
process had had on established relationships with colleagues at ABC
News, but said “this is what happens when a company lies about what it
has done”.

ABC claims Gizbert’s contract was not renewed on the
grounds of economic pressure. ABC’s vice president of news, Mimi
Gurbst, told the tribunal she was asked to cut $10m from ABC’s news
budget. When asked if Gizbert’s refusal to go to war zones was a factor
in the decision to end his contract, Gurbst said: “The fact that
Richard would not travel to war zones was very low down, if at all, in
our thinking when we considered his contract.”

She added: “It is
easier for us to deal with freelances than staff employees – we had
greater obligation to staff employees. Richard’s arrangement in London
had worked well for two years and I think it would have continued had
we not had a major budget challenge.”

Former BBC foreign
correspondent Martin Bell, called as an expert witness, told the
tribunal: “Richard Gizbert does not have a reputation, within the
profession, as a litigious or difficult character. If he succeeds, as I
very much hope that he will, it will benefit many others – especially
younger journalists – who share the same doubts, but have so far not
dared to voice them. It is time to close the book on macho journalism.”

The tribunal continues.

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