BBC media correspondent
Gizbert (centre) claims he was sacked for refusing to go to Iraq
A TV news correspondent who claimed he was sacked for refusing to go to Iraq has won his unfair dismissal case. The tribunal highlighted the dilemma which journalists and their bosses face.
War correspondents have always been a breed apart, rushing in where most of us fear to tread.
We remember John Simpson marching into Kabul and Max Hastings yomping into Port Stanley, "liberating" Afghanistan and the Falkland Islands and scooping their rivals into the bargain.
But the life of the war correspondent has never been more dangerous, according to the former BBC correspondent Martin Bell. "It is time to close the book on macho journalism", he said this week.
"The turning point was 9/11. Before that time, the main danger a journalist would face was to be caught in the crossfire of someone else's war. After that time, Western journalists were singled out for abduction, execution and torture."
Bell was giving evidence in support of Richard Gizbert, a London-based correspondent for the American ABC News network, who claims he was sacked for refusing to cover the war in Iraq. ABC - part of the Walt Disney empire - hotly denied the claim, saying Gizbert was simply a victim - along with others - of budget cuts.
An industrial tribunal has now accepted his claim but the amount of damages he receives will be decided in the New Year.
Health and safety
The case has highlighted not just the new dangers faced by war correspondents but the difficult relationship such situations can lead to with their employers.
In 1991, the BBC ordered John Simpson to leave Baghdad before the Gulf War bombing began. He refused, and a compromise was found, whereby he and two BBC colleagues were assured they would not be punished if they disregarded orders. In this case, it was claimed, the opposite happened.
Gizbert - a veteran of conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda and Chechnya - told the tribunal that ABC News had not renewed his contract after he twice refused to cover the Middle East conflict. He said they'd told him they needed reporters who "would kick down doors".
In a move with implications for all news organisations, his legal team argued that health and safety protection in UK employment law should apply to journalists assigned to war zones.
ABC News said Gizbert had switched to a freelance contract in 2002 so his work preferences could be accommodated but that such freelancers "became a luxury they could no longer afford".
Publicly, all sides accept that war reporting must be voluntary. ABC stated: "The safety of our correspondents is our first priority. All of our correspondents understand that assignments to war zones are completely voluntary."
Martin Bell told the tribunal: "Most networks mean it when they say that war zone assignments are entirely voluntary. The BBC certainly does."
He cited a cameraman and reporter who'd decided to retire from the front after starting families and who had both been promoted, not penalised.
Another BBC correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, made the same point in his documentary "On The Front Line" earlier this year: "What we must never forget is that we are there because we want to be. We can always get out and go home - even if we don't always want to."
But Bell said eventually all war correspondents must call it a day: "It occurred to me that courage in anyone was a finite resource, like petrol in a car. The moment when I found my own tank running low was during a Serbian artillery attack in Sarajevo in May 1992."
Maggie O'Kane, the former Guardian war correspondent, agrees up to a point: "I would not be so prosaic as to call it courage - more ambition, nerve, recklessness and, sometimes, even passion. But whatever it is, it runs out for most of us."
She wrote in the Guardian that she "basically lost her nerve in Afghanistan in 2002 after three colleagues were taken out of their car and executed by the Taliban in roughly the same amount of time as it takes to boil a kettle".
"The old nerve is probably best personified by John Simpson's personal liberation of Kabul - I continue to wonder why he is still at it," says O'Kane.
"Simpson, with no idea if the Taliban were still around and killing people like him, walked into the city with his team - leaving all the rest of us behind doing what we were told. He was slagged off for it royally but as with most great scoops and great telly, everybody else was just jealous."