When Cardinal George Pell was convicted of the historic sexual abuse of two altar boys in 2018, Australian media were banned from reporting the facts of the case due to a crackdown aimed at maintaining the sins presumed Vatican no. 3 calm ahead of a second trial for sexual abuse.
But several outlets contested the order after The Daily Beast and Washington post printed the facts of the case, including Pell’s name. (The Daily Beast geo-blocked the history of all Australian IP addresses when it was published so as not to violate the removal order.) Now, seven months after Pell’s conviction was overturned by a high court, 18 Australian journalists, editors and broadcasters and 12 Australian media organizations are on trial for contempt for allegedly defying order and spreading history in what is expected to be the biggest press freedom confrontation in the era digital that Australia has ever known.
US-based publications including The Daily Beast, which did not fall under Australian jurisdiction, are not on trial, but were mentioned in lead prosecutor’s opening remarks on Monday in the Supreme Court of Victoria. .
Chief Prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari said The Daily Beast and Washington post were the first to report Pell’s name and conviction, which gave Australian media an opportunity to point the finger at these stories by “directly and willfully defying the crackdown”.
She told the judge that Australian publications had violated the removal order by effectively directing their readers to search for US reports online.
Unlike the suppression orders that are common in Australia and the UK in high-profile criminal cases, the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects American journalists from prosecution for reporting facts.
Ferrari has shown several examples of alleged violations, which lead to heavy fines and up to five years in prison if any of the 30 plaintiffs are found guilty. the Herald sun, for example, posted a white headline “Censored” on a black cover page to protest the gag order. “The world is reading a very important story about the Victorians,” the story said. “But believe us, this is a story you deserve to read.”
On the Herald SunThe online edition of, they went further, pointing to the story of The Daily Beast and stating: “A high profile Australian known to the world has been convicted of a serious crime, but details cannot be published in any media in the country. . The story we can’t relate. “
Other publications cited in the contempt of criminal prosecution include Age whose former editor Alex Lavelle was personally indicted for a report which simply referred to “a high profile figure” who had been “convicted of a serious crime”.
The Sydney Morning Herald is also named for similar reports.
The 30 plaintiffs deny the charges and the court will have to prove that they knowingly defied the suppression order. In cases where outlets only publish online, they can claim that global distribution exempts them from ordering. In cases where the print newspapers have only referred to Pell as a “senior cardinal” or “prominent figure,” lawyers will argue that they did not defy the order.
The penalties for contempt of court in the state of Victoria include five years imprisonment for individuals and a minimum of $ 69,000 with no maximum fine. Instead, businesses face minimum fines of around $ 400.00 with no cap.
Pell returned to Rome in late September amid a financial scandal at the Vatican. He was greeted by Pope Francis, whom he met privately.
The trial is taking place in a virtual courtroom without a jury due to COVID-19 restrictions and is expected to last between two and three weeks.
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