Australia

Bid to dismiss Pell contempt trial against media

Lawyers acting for the media have asked a judge to throw out a contempt of court case against them over reporting on the trial of Cardinal George Pell. Matt Collins QC argued in the Supreme Court of Victoria on Friday there was “no case to answer” because the Crown has not proved its case as…

Lawyers acting for the media have asked a judge to throw out a contempt of court case against them over reporting on the trial of Cardinal George Pell.

Matt Collins QC argued in the Supreme Court of Victoria on Friday there was “no case to answer” because the Crown has not proved its case as set out in court documents.

Dr Collins said the prosecution case was reliant on the fact Australians could read about what happened through international publications online since no media company named Cardinal Pell nor the child sexual abuse charges he was found guilty of. The convictions have since been overturned.

Prosecutors argue Australian media breached a suppression order from Country Court chief judge Peter Kidd in December 2018, after a jury found Cardinal Pell guilty of historic child sex offences.

Chief Judge Kidd ordered the trial of Cardinal Pell could not be reported on, because it could impact the jury in a second trial against him — which was later dropped.

The guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell — which was successfully appealed — was widely reported in international publications, including online, because they do not have to follow orders from Australian courts.

Dr Collins said on Friday the prosecution case was reliant on arguing that reporting by Australian media encouraged people to go online and read details about the case from international media, such as The Washington Post.

“The applicant’s case is a very narrow one,” he said.

“It is that each of the impugned publications and broadcasts had a tendency to encourage readers or viewers to go online, where they would find one of the 35 online articles (listed by the prosecution).

“None of the (media organisations) named Cardinal Pell, or named the charges of which he had been convicted.

“The prosecution must somehow link the impugned applicants to extraneous material.”

Reporting on the trial by Australian media included a News Corp article headlined “Nation’s biggest story: The story we can’t report”.

The story told readers there was a high-profile Australian who had been convicted of a serious crime, but that a court order prevented that person from being named.

The article called the court order “an archaic curb on freedom of the press in the currently digitally connected world”.

“We believe that you have the right to know this story now and without any further delay,” it said.

Media companies named in the suit include News Corp — the publisher of this website as well as the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers — as well as The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Channel 9, The Australian Financial Review, 2GB radio, Mamamia, and Business Insider, and individual journalists and editors.

Prosecutor Lisa de Ferrari SC on Friday denied the case was founded on “a narrow point”, arguing “despite the valiant attempt” of Dr Collins, the state had argued media breached the suppression order in more than one way.

Cardinal Pell’s conviction of child sexual abuse was overturned by the High Court in April and he has returned to the Vatican in Rome, the global centre of Catholicism.

The state is asking judge John Dixon to declare media breached the suppression order.

It is asking that the media organisations and journalists be convicted, imprisoned, fined, and/or “any further or other order” that the court thinks “appropriate”.

The trial continues.

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