Australian media trial over Pell conviction adjourned; judge considers dismissing charges

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian judge on Tuesday adjourned a trial of Australian journalists and media to consider whether to dismiss charges they breached a court suppression order on reporting of ex-Vatican treasurer George Pell’s 2018 child sex abuse conviction.

FILE PHOTO: Former Vatican treasurer George Pell arrives after travelling for first time since he was acquitted of child sex abuse charges in Australia, at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

Supreme Court of Victoria judge John Dixon said he expected to make the decision in a few days.

Lawyers for the media asked the court to throw out the whole case, or dismiss charges just against the journalists as they were not responsible for publishing their articles, or 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 the cardinal received a fair trial on further charges 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 they were unable to report major news regarding an unnamed high profile figure but flagged the news was accessible online.

The state of Victoria’s prosecutors allege that publications breached the gag order by encouraging readers to find the news online, potentially tainting jurors in the second trial Pell was facing. Pell never faced a second trial.

Lawyers for the media argued on Tuesday that the prosecution’s case provided no evidence that anyone who read the Australian articles went on to search for overseas articles.

“Your honour might think this journalism crossed a line, but the question is what line did it cross,” the lawyer for Nine and Mamamia, Matt Collins, told the court.

The media’s lawyers also argued 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 with up to five years jail and fines of nearly A$100,000 ($73,240) for individuals and nearly A$500,000 for companies.

Pell was acquitted in April after he served more than a year in jail.

($1 = 1.3654 Australian dollars)

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