Cardinal George Pell: Australian media fined A$1.1m over trial reports
Published4 hours ago
Cardinal Pell sex abuse case
Cardinal George Pell
image captionCardinal George Pell's convictions were overturned by Australia's highest court
A court has fined 12 Australian media groups a total of A$1.1m (£600,000; $840,000) for their coverage of Cardinal George Pell's now-overturned conviction in a sexual abuse case.
The outlets admitted to breaching a legal order in 2018, which banned them from reporting the verdict at the time.
A judge rejected arguments that their news reports - which didn't name Pell - were in the public interest.
Some of Australia's biggest media groups are among those fined.
This includes Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which was fined about A$430,000, for its reports on its news.com.au site, The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers.
Nine Entertainment - which publishes The Age newspaper and owns Channel Nine - was fined over A$600,000 for its stories.
The reporting ban - enforced through a legal order - was brought in at the start of Cardinal Pell's 2018 trial.
It was to prevent the possibility of prejudice affecting a separate trial he was to face on other charges.
Under the suppression order, journalists were banned from reporting any detail of the sexual abuse case, including his conviction when it was ruled by a jury in December 2018. The cardinal had previously been one of the highest-ranking Vatican figures and a close adviser to the Pope.
The High Court of Australia later overturned the guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell on appeal.
media captionAustralian court frees Cardinal Pell
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The suppression order was later lifted in February 2019. But several outlets published reports referring to his case shortly after his conviction.
Much of that coverage in December 2018 criticised the secrecy of the case without naming Cardinal Pell specifically.
Front page newspaper headlines included: "Nation's biggest story: The story we can't report"; and "Secret scandal. It's Australia's biggest story. A high-profile person found guilty of a terrible crime. The world is reading about it but we can't tell you a word."
On Friday, Judge John Dixon in the Victorian Supreme Court ruled the media groups had breached the ban, and "usurped the function of the court in protection of the proper administration of justice".
"[They] took it upon themselves to determine where the balance ought to lie between Pell's right to a fair second trial... and the public's right to know," read a summary of the court judgement.
Judge Dixon also said editorial attacks on the suppression order - from news.com.au and The Age newspaper in particular - "constituted a blatant and wilful defiance of the court's authority".
The other outlets fined received smaller penalties. These included The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, news sites Mamamia and Business Insider, radio station 2GB as well as the Channel Nine TV network.
In February, the media outlets pleaded guilty to breaching the contempt of court charges. The plea agreement negotiated led to prosecutors dropping charges against 15 individual journalists.