George Pell case: Australian media defend ‘contempt’ allegations

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Cardinal George Pell swarmed by media as he leaves a court in February

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AAP/Reuters

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Cardinal Pell’s case was closely followed by regional and international media

Dozens of journalists and important news outlets in Australia have begun defending accusations that they breached a reporting ban on the sexual abuse trial of Cardinal George Pell.

Pell, the ex-Vatican treasurer, was convicted in December of abusing two boys in 1996. The media was barred from reporting the verdict till February.

Prosecutors say 23 journalists and 13 publishers committed contempt of court.

The case could have a “chilling impact” on “open justice”, defence lawyers say.

If discovered guilty, the defendants face up to 5 years in jail and fines of about A$96,000 (£52,000 $69,000).

They consist of journalists from lots of of Australia’s biggest news organisations, like the editors of newspapers The Age and the Herald Sun, as effectively as prominent Television and radio presenters.

Defence barrister Matthew Collins told a court on Monday that the case was unprecedented in Australian legal history.

What occurred final year?

A judge banned the media from reporting on Pell’s trial, in order to avert any influence on a planned second trial.

  • Why was Pell’s conviction kept secret?
  • Reporting on a secret trial about kid sex abuse

In December, the cardinal was convicted by a jury of sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in 1996.

The verdict prompted lots of Australian media outlets to publish articles that referred to the case in some way – even though none named Pell. Numerous non-Australian publications did determine him.

The reporting ban, identified as a suppression order, was lifted earlier this year right after prosecutors dropped the planned second trial.

Pell has launched an appeal against his conviction.

What occurred on Monday?

Mr Collins, who is representing all 36 defendants, told a court that none of his clients’ media reports had identified Pell or the charges he had faced.

“They did not reference the cardinal – just referred to the reality that there was a broader story that could not be told,” Mr Collins mentioned, according to Reuters.

He added that the defendants had been “not fringe players” but rather mainstream news organisations with no history of breaching court orders.

Prosecutors alleged that regional media coverage had “aided and betted the overseas media’s contempt”. Outlets outdoors Australian jurisdiction are not facing legal action.

Judge John Dixon mentioned he was nevertheless to make a decision the irrespective of whether case really should involve 1 or 36 trials, or “one thing in in between”.

The hearing was adjourned till 26 June.

The case follows a lot debate in Australia more than the effectiveness of suppression orders in the online age.