News outlets charged with contempt over Cardinal Pell’s trial

News outlets charged with contempt over Cardinal Pell’s trial April 15, 2019
Image via YouTube

IN what has been described as an unprecedented attack on press freedom in Australia, 23 journalists and 13 media outlets have been hit with charges relating to the child sexual abuse trial of Catholic cardinal George Pell, above.

The media and reporters are accused of abetting contempt of court by the foreign press and of “scandalising the court” by breaching a gagging order, despite none of them reporting on the charges involved or mentioning Pell by name.

If convicted, the journalists face prison terms of up to five years and the news organisations fines of up to AU$500 000 (US$360 000).

Matthew Collins, representing the accused media at the first hearing on the matter today, said such wide-ranging contempt charges had “no precedent” in Australian legal history.

There are simply no cases of which we are aware in Australia where media organisations, editors or journalists have been charged, much less found guilty, of contempt in circumstances such as these.

Collins added that a guilty verdict on any of the charges would have a “chilling effect” on open justice in Australia.

He insisted that the contempt allegations lacked specific examples of how any of the accused news companies or journalists actually breached the gag order when they never mentioned Pell or the crimes for which he was convicted.

The accused include Australia’s two biggest newspaper companies, Rupert Murdoch’s Nationwide News and the former Fairfax group now owned by broadcaster Nine, as well as leading newspaper editors and reporters.

Judge John Dixon agreed that prosecutors had not provided sufficient detail of the charges against each news organisation and journalist, asking:

Does this involve one trial or 36 trials, or something in between?

He ordered prosecutors to provide detailed statements of claim to the accused and set a new hearing for June 26.

Pell, 77, the most senior Catholic cleric convicted of sex crimes, was found guilty in December of abusing two choirboys and is serving a six-year prison term. He has appealed the conviction.

The court had banned all reporting of the case pending a second trial scheduled for this month, but the gag order was lifted in February when that trial was cancelled.

Some foreign media, including The New York Times and the Washington Post, reported Pell’s conviction in December, while local media ran cryptic articles complaining that they were being prevented from reporting a story of major public interest.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

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  • Broga

    This rather looks as if some influential figures have not liked a senior RC priest to be prosecuted and jailed? The charges seem so general and unspecific that the entire matter smacks of a furious lashing out to inflict some damage on the media. I suppose there was bound to be a reaction from the “people of faith”. Perhaps an opening shot in getting the convicted Pell freed.

  • wannabe

    …local media ran cryptic articles complaining that they were being prevented from reporting a story of major public interest.

    Local media were telling their readers that there was a juicy story that almost anyone could find with a couple of mouse clicks. So any normally curious potential juror with a smartphone would likely find the story.

    That action had a result that was both entirely predictable and certainly not in compliance with the stated intent of the gag order, which was to prevent prejudice against the defendant in another case.

    In my not-a-lawyer opinion those media outlets are guilty of violating the gag order. But they will probably be let off this time because the judge didn’t specify “no teasing”*. That won’t happen again.

    ——
    *If your mother says “Don’t tickle your little sister,” are you technically breaking the rule by wiggling your fingers next to her midriff?

  • Freethinker

    Oh gods no! Let’s not let the public know that another high ranking Vaticon member gets accused on raping a child.
    What would be news is that a place exists somewhere on this planet where this criminal organization has not ritualistically abused minors.

  • Graeme Thompson

    If you actually knew the facts, then the suppression order was quite reasonable. He was found guilty in the first case and still had to stand trail for a second case, the suppression was so he could get a fair trail on the second case and avoid trail by media. It was only in place until the second trail finished. Whether you like it or not everyone is entitled to a fair trail.

  • Graeme Thompson

    Your comments look like you don’t like the RC church (neither do I), but when journalist ignore a court order for a TEMPORARY gag order and place themselves above the legal system, then they run the risk of being punished.

  • Freethinker

    the suppression order was quite reasonable.

    To a pedantic, uneducated mind unhinged from reality maybe.

    We no longer live in a world where information is shared via a courier pigeon. If foreign news outlets were already broadcasting the verdict a quick internet search by anyone would have gotten the same result as the supposed ‘illegal’ action of the Aussie media. In addition, if you read the details of this “case” you will find that the contempt allegations lacked specific examples of how any of the accused news companies or journalists actually breached the gag order when they never mentioned Pell or the crimes for which he was convicted. The contempt was so vague and sloppy that the presiding judge, John Dixon, agreed that prosecutors had not provided sufficient detail of the charges against each news organization and journalist.
    This is more than likely an empty virtue-signalling gesture by a catholic prosecutor to ‘punish’ the news media for doing their job and earn some celestial brownie points.

  • Graeme Thompson

    You certainly don’t like being proven wrong, do you? You’re comment was nothing about the contempt charges, but when proven your comment was uneducated BS, you changed tact fairly quickly

  • Freethinker

    Proven wrong? Hope you are enjoying the alternate reality you are living in. Regrettably I can only explain things to you, I can’t understand them for you.

  • Graeme Thompson

    Yes, since you are only 5 years old, or have the intellect of a five year old, it will put it in terms that even an arrogant arsehole like you can understand. Your original post “Let’s not let the public know that another high ranking Vaticon member gets accused on raping a child. ” There are very good reason for temporarily withholding the facts from the public, and that is so as he can have a fair trail on the second charge, something bigots like you would refuse him, but be careful of what you want, its a very slippery slope, someday the same rules as you wish to impose upon him may very well be used against you. Journalist are not above the law, even though they think they are.
    PS you should change you handle to oneeyedthinker or even better browneyedthinker, because one thing you are diffidently not is a free thinker

  • Mike Curnutt

    Not related to the article, but why do I see an ad for that stupid Breakthrough movie on every Pathos atheist/free thinker page?

  • David Cromie

    Who initiated the charges against the news media?

  • David Cromie

    Indeed, but in this instance there is no evidence being offered that the press actually breached the gagging order.

  • Graeme Thompson

    well that is an issue for the courts to decide, that’s how the legal system works, if there is no evidence they won’t be found guilty, despite what the conspiracy theorists think.