Australian publishers and journos face trial over Pell reporting

Many Australian publishers and journalists will be tried in November for breaking court suppression orders about Cardinal George Pell, when he was convicted of child sex abuse in December 2018.

Prosecutors in the state of Victoria say 19 journalists and 21 publications aided and abetted contempt of court by overseas media and breached the trial judge’s suppression orders.

Pell had been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys. Reporting on the case was suppressed to avoid prejudicing another trial on separate charges.

After the verdict, however, some Australian publishers said an unnamed high-profile person had been convicted of a serious crime that could not be reported. Some overseas media named Pell and the charges.

The second case was later dropped and the suppression order was lifted in February 2019. Pell’s conviction was overturned by Australia’s High Court in April.

Supreme Court of Victoria Justice John Dixon has proposed beginning the trial against the media to begin on 9 November.

The prosecution and defence have yet to agree on all the issues at stake. They also need to decide and whether to go through a single trial or several.

The prosecution is seeking one trial, which would be held before a judge. The media lawyer says there appears to be 13 separate controversies to resolve.

“The respondents are very anxious for these matters to be resolved, finally, that have been hanging over their heads for far too long, but we do think it’s a question of proceeding with some caution,” Matthew Collins told the court.

Those facing contempt charges include journalists from Nine Entertainment Co’s newspapers The Age and the Australian Financial Review and several News Corp publications.

Breaches of suppression orders can be punished with jail for up to five years and fines of nearly A$100,000 for individuals and nearly A$500,000 for companies.

The next hearing in the case is set for July.


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