Australian media fined $ 840,000 for violating gag order in Pell sexual assault case

Australian Cardinal George Pell gestures while speaking during an interview with Reuters in Rome, Italy, December 7, 2020. REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane

An Australian court on Friday ordered a dozen media companies to pay a total of A $ 1.1 million ($ 842,270) in fines for violating a removal order regarding the declaration of the former’s conviction. Vatican Treasurer George Pell for Child Sexual Assault.

The 12 media outlets, mostly owned by Nine Entertainment Co (NEC.AX) and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWSA.O), pleaded guilty in February to violating the gag order on reporting about the trial and sentencing of the cardinal, after the state agreed to drop all charges against journalists and editors.

Victoria Supreme Court Justice John Dixon condemned the media companies saying they had “frustrated the suppression order because they undermined its purpose or effectiveness by reporting information contrary to the terms of the order.” .

Pell’s conviction for abusing two altar boys was overturned in April last year after being jailed for more than a year. He was the most senior Catholic church official ever jailed for child sexual assault.

Reporting of Pell’s 2018 trial and verdict has been gagged across Australia by the Victoria County Court to ensure the cardinal gets a fair trial on the other charges before him. These charges were then dropped.

After his jury conviction in December 2018, foreign media published the verdict, naming Pell and the charges, despite the removal order.

Australian media then ran reports saying they were unable to cover important information about an unidentified prominent person, with some pointing out that the information could be found online.

Dixon said on Friday that he did not accept the media’s argument that their violations of the suppression order were due to an honest but mistaken belief that their reporting would not violate the order.

It imposed the heaviest aggregate fine on Nine Entertainment’s The Age newspaper, AU $ 450,000, for two articles and an editorial, while imposing the heaviest one-time fine on news.com.au’s website. News Corp, at A $ 400,000, for an article online.

The Age and News Life Media “deliberately took a risk by intentionally publishing information derived from the trial to advance a particular objective – a collateral attack on the role of suppression orders in Victoria’s criminal justice system – which was clearly in favor. conflict with the purpose of the removal order, ”Dixon said in his judgment.

The maximum penalty for violating a removal order is almost A $ 500,000 for businesses.

Dixon did not accept the state’s argument that, by publishing their articles, the media was attempting to pressure the county court to lift the removal order in December 2018, which would have rendered the “flagrant and extreme” violation.

In deciding on penalties, Dixon said he took into account the media companies’ agreement to pay A $ 650,000 to cover prosecutor’s fees and the media’s “sincere and unqualified apologies” to the courts.

The Australian branch of Nine Entertainment and News Corp was not immediately available for comment.

($ 1 = AU $ 1.3060)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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