ABC attacks freelance over 'average' reporting

A freelance reporter who is suing the ABC News channel over claims he was fired for refusing to cover the war in Iraq has been branded “average” by the American network.

Richard Gizbert is seeking £2.2million for unfair dismal over allegations that his freelance contract was terminated because he rejected two assignments in the Middle East.

The US broadcaster rejects the claims, telling a London tribunal yesterday that its other freelance correspondents continue to work worldwide, despite refusing similar stints overseas.

However, Mr Gizbert insists that his freelance contract, which stipulated 100 days work at a daily rate of about £560, was terminated after he was told ABC needed reporters who “would kick down doors.”

According to the BBC, Gizbert’s staff contract was replaced with a freelance one in 2002, in pursuit of a more flexible working arrangement that would allow more time with his family, and less time working on foreign assignments.

Reflecting on the contract, Marcus Wilford, London bureau chief for ABC, said both parties had intended to benefit from the new arrangement, yet he reportedly noted how Gizbert soon become unaffordable.

“He could be very argumentative over his scripts and in interviews did all the talking, instead of letting his interviewee tell the story.

"He was an average, not outstanding correspondent," Wilford told the tribunal.

The damning verdict added that when budget cuts hit the news giant in 2004, specified by a 10 per cent reduction, the channel decided not to renew the freelancer’s contract.

Earlier in the hearing, Mimi Gurbtz, ABC’s vice president for news coverage, said corporation-wide cuts had previously affected freelance media, camera crews and frontline reporters.

At the time, she said sacking Gizbert because he was deemed inflexible by programme heads at ABC News was “very low down” the list of reasons - “if at all.”

Yet Gizbert heard his former boss Wilford yesterday explain that the freelance, who boasts a solid media record of coverage in Bosnia and Chechnya, became inflexible and too expensive.

Lawyers for Gizbert are now preparing to argue that health and safety protection in employment law should apply to journalists employed in the UK who are contracted into war zones.

Their appeal to the tribunal, which is due to run for another five days, will be joined by veteran war correspondent, Martin Bell, who will spell out the heightened risks for media professionals assigned to the world’s most dangerous places.


27th September 2005

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