Former Age Editor Quizzed over George Pell Story
By Caroline Schelle
NCA NewsWire via Mercury
January 29, 2021
|Cardinal George Pell at his residence at Rome, Italy. Picture: Victor Sokolowicz|
A judge has quizzed the former editor of The Age newspaper about why he published a story related to the George Pell sex abuse case despite a “plain prohibition” on the reporting of proceedings.
Alex Lavelle continued his evidence on Friday in the Victorian Supreme Court trial against more than two dozen media companies, journalists and editors for allegedly committing a contempt of court and breaching a suppression order in the Pell case. All defendants deny the charges.
The Age published an article online and in print explaining to readers why it couldn’t report on a high-profile case, without naming Pell.
Mr Lavelle is among 27 media outlets, journalists and editors on trial facing a total of 79 sub judice and contempt charges for publishing similar stories.
The defendants include titles published by entities owned by Nine Newspapers and News Corp Australia.
The ex-editor was probed about his understanding of the suppression order and how he was made aware of the verdict in the case by Justice John Dixon on Friday.
The court heard the suppression order in the Pell case “prohibited” any report of the “whole or any part of these trials and any information derived from these trials”, including any court documents associated with it.
“Why do you say publishing the fact that a high profile person had been convicted was not breaching the suppression order, when you had derived that information from the court reporters in the trial?” the judge asked.
“My focus on the situation was about the identity and nature of the charges,” Mr Lavelle replied.
The judge suggested to Mr Lavelle that understanding the paragraph would “not occasion great difficulty” to the former editor, who has an English Literature degree.
|Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Seminary Of The Good Shepherd in Sydney after he was acquitted of child sex abuse convictions in 2020. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi|
The former editor said he relied on advice received from “two eminent and experienced media lawyers” and was focused on the charges and identity issues.
“If I had believed we were in breach of the suppression order I would not have sought to publish the story,” Mr Lavelle said.
“I trusted the advice I was given from these experienced lawyers.”
Matthew Collins QC, appearing for The Australian Financial Review, asked Mr Lavelle what his major concern was at the time.
|County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd issued the suppression order and heard the case against Cardinal George Pell. Picture: Josie Hayden|
“My major concern was whether we were able to produce a form of words that … could convey to those readers this is the reason why we can’t report on a story you may be aware of,” Mr Lavelle said.
The trial is also hearing evidence from The Australian Financial Review news editor Mark Coultan.
The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions claims the reporting potentially impacted on the fairness of Pell’s second trial, which was due to occur in 2019. Cardinal Pell was not named in the reports and the second trial was dropped.
The country’s highest ranking Catholic was eventually cleared of abusing two choirboys by the High Court and immediately freed from jail in April after 13 months behind bars.
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