Sydney, Australia, Jun 4 (EFE).- A court on Friday sentenced 12 Australian media companies to pay fines of up to AU$450,000 ($345,000) for breaching a court order that prohibited reporting on the 2018 child sexual abuse conviction handed down to Cardinal George Pell, who was later exonerated.
Judge John Dixon of the Victoria state Supreme Court also ordered the companies, whose lowest fines were AU$1,000, to pay applicant’s costs of AU$650,000.
The companies, whose outlets include The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph and news.com.au, pleaded guilty in February to 21 charges of contempt of court in a plea deal.
When announcing his ruling in the virtual hearing in the city of Melbourne, to which EFE had access, Judge Dixon said by disregarding the gag order, the companies “usurped the function of the court in protecting the proper administration of justice.”
The order was made because Pell had another case pending that was eventually dismissed, although most foreign media skipped the court order and the nationals looked for ways to report indirectly.
They “took it upon themselves to determine where the balance ought to lie between Pell’s right to a fair second trial (on separate charges) by an impartial jury, and the public’s right to know what happened in the cathedral trial,” Justice Dixon ruled.
The magistrate said that, in particular, the coverage of News Life Media (news.com.au) and The Age Company (The Age) constituted “a blatant and wilful defiance of the court’s authority, as each took a deliberate risk by intentionally advancing a collateral attack on the role of suppression orders in Victoria’s criminal justice system.”
For this, The Age Company received the maximum fine of AU$450,000, while News Life Media will have to pay AU$400,000.
As a result of the ruling that determined the guilt of former Vatican treasurer Pell in one of two trials, some Australian news outlets bypassed the ban, which would have been formally lifted in February 2019 after the other trial was dismissed.
Pell was later sentenced to six years in prison on five counts of child sexual abuse, a ruling upheld in August 2019, but overturned in April 2020 by Australia’s highest court. EFE