An Australian judge yesterday adjourned a trial of Australian journalists and media organizations to consider whether to dismiss charges that they breached a court suppression order on reporting of ex-Vatican treasurer George Pell’s 2018 child sex abuse conviction.
Supreme Court of Victoria judge John Dixon said that he expected to make the decision in a few days.
Lawyers for the media asked the court to throw out the whole case; to dismiss just the charges against the journalists, as they were not responsible for publishing their articles; or to dismiss charges against media outside the state of Victoria: News Corp’s Courier Mail and Daily Telegraph, and Nine Entertainment’s Sydney Morning Herald and 2GB Radio.
Pell was convicted in December 2018 of sexually assaulting two choirboys, but reporting on the trial and outcome was gagged by the County Court of Victoria to ensure that the cardinal received a fair trial on further charges that he was due to face.
Overseas media, including the Washington Post, reported the news, naming Pell and the charges, shortly after the verdict.
After those were published, some Australian media ran stories saying that they were unable to report major news regarding an unnamed high profile figure, but flagged that the news was accessible online.
Local prosecutors have said that publications allegedly breached the gag order by encouraging readers to find the news online, potentially tainting jurors in a second trial.
The media’s lawyers said that had anyone looked for those overseas articles, they would not have found the articles that the prosecution presented in its case, as those were mostly written after the Australian articles and broadcasts.
Thirteen of the 100 charges in the case were dropped last week.
Breaches of suppression orders can be punished by up to five years jail and fines of nearly A$100,000 (US$73082) for individuals and nearly A$500,000 for companies.
Pell was acquitted in April after he served more than one year in prison.
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