Australian Media Organizations Fined A$1.1 Million for Breaching Gag Order on Cardinal George Pell’s Sexual Abuse Case

An Australian court has fined 12 media groups A$1.1 million (US$842,805) for breaching a suppression order over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s now-overturned conviction in a sexual abuse case.

On June 4, Victoria Supreme Court Justice John Dixon ruled that a dozen Australian media groups “usurped the function of the court in protection of the proper administration of justice” when they breached a reporting ban on Pell’s child sexual assault trial in 2018.

Nine Entertainment owned most of the convicted news outlet, including Melbourne newspaper The Age, which received the heaviest penalty at A$450,000 (US$344,869).

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp outlet received the second heaviest penalty at A$400,000 (US$306,59).

The order banned journalists from reporting the case, including the conviction ruled in December 2018 because Pell had a second trial over a different set of allegations.

The media groups’ had argued that they reported the case, without naming Pell, because it was of public interest and that it was due to “an honest but mistaken belief that their reporting would not contravene the order,” but Dixon rejected these.

The media groups “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,” Dixon said in the court judgement.

Dixon said the media groups “frustrated the suppression order as they diminished its purpose or efficacy by reporting information contrary to the terms of the order.”

Last February, the media groups had pleaded guilty to contempt for breaching the suppression order for reporting the case of Pell, who was one of the highest-ranking Vatican figures.

The suppression order was lifted in February 2019.

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