DPP Seeks Convictions in Pell Media Contempt Case
By Melissa Iaria
February 16, 2021
Media companies that breached court suppression orders in Cardinal George Pell’s child sex abuse case should all receive heavy fines and convictions, prosecutors say.
Roslyn Kaye, acting for Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that even though the outlets obtained legal advice, they still took a risk by publishing and broadcasting reports about Cardinal Pell’s case in the days after his guilty conviction.
The high-ranking Catholic, a former adviser to Pope Francis, was eventually acquitted on appeal.
A non-publication order prevented any reporting on Cardinal Pell’s 2018 trial because it could have affected the jury in his forthcoming second trial, which was later dropped.
Fourteen media outlets, including entities owned by News Corp Australia and Nine, pleaded guilty earlier this month to contempt by breaching the order.
None of the outlets named Cardinal Pell or his charges but referred to the conviction of a high profile Australian.
Ms Kaye alleged the companies were driven by their disagreement with the court order, a desire to attract viewers and readers, and to pressure the trial judge to lift the order when he was due to review it the following day.
She asked Justice John Dixon to convict each outlet and impose a substantial penalty on each charge, saying the breaches were deliberate and at the “very high end of seriousness”.
|Prosecutors say the media breach in the George Pell case was serious. Photo: Victor SokolowiczSource:News Corp Australia|
But Will Houghton, representing News Corp outlets, said while they accepted they had frustrated the aim of the suppression order, the breach was at the “lower end”.
The articles did not name Pell, the state in which he was convicted, his charges or the Catholic Church, instead referring to the conviction of a high profile Australian.
Mr Houghton said there was limited evidence readers could easily discover their identity by finding the 35 overseas articles detailing Pell’s conviction.
Mr Houghton submitted a mid-range fine and conviction for the publication of a news.com.au online article was appropriate, as well as a modest fine without conviction for an article in The Daily Telegraph.
But he asked the court not to impose convictions or penalties for the rest of the News Corp outlets charged.
|The penalty hearing against media charged over the Cardinal George Pell case continues on Wednesday. Photo: Victor SokolowiczSource:News Corp Australia|
Recent similar cases reveal media penalties for contempt of court ranged from $10,000-$300,000, but none involved not naming the accused or their charges, he said.
The media companies entered guilty pleas to a total 21 charges, as part of a deal with the DPP to drop dozens of charges against individual journalists and editors, who faced potentially severe penalties, including jail, if convicted.
All media companies have agreed to pay a contribution towards the DPP’s costs of $650,000 as part of the plea deal.
The companies that have pleaded guilty included News Corporation’s The Herald and Weekly Times, NewsLifeMedia, Queensland Newspapers, Geelong Advertiser, Nationwide News and Advertiser Newspapers, as well as The Age, Fairfax Media Publications, Mamamia, Allure Media and Radio 2GB Sydney and General Television Corporation.
The material was published or broadcast in the Herald Sun, Weekly Times, news.com.au, the Courier Mail, Geelong Advertiser, Daily Telegraph, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, Mamamia, Business Insider, Radio 2GB Sydney and the Today Show.
Cardinal Pell was cleared of abusing two choirboys by the High Court and immediately freed from jail in April last year after spending 13 months behind bars.
The penalty hearing continues on Wednesday.
News Corp Australia is the owner of NCA NewsWire.