Melbourne, Australia, Apr 15, 2019 / 10:15 am
More than twenty journalists in Australia faced court charges Monday over breach of a court gag order in the case of Cardinal George Pell. The state government of Victoria is bringing charges against several prominent individuals and news outlets for tacitly supporting overseas media in flouting the news blackout.
On April 15, Victoria County Court held a first hearing in an effort by state prosecutors to bring charges against 23 journalists and 13 news outlets, including some of the largest names in Australian media, including The Age newspaper and several News Corp publications.
Shortly after the Pell verdict was reached, Judge Peter Kidd issued a pointed warning about media violations of reporting restrictions.
“A number of very important people in the media are facing, if found guilty, the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment, and it may well be that many significant members of the media community are in that potential position,” Kidd said on December 13.
Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts.
Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.
Cardinal Pell was convicted of sexual abuse of minors on 11 December last year. Media coverage of the trial was forbidden after the County Court of Victoria imposed a sweeping injunction suppressing the legal proceedings in June, 2018, at the request of the prosecution.
The court order sought to prevent reporting of Pell’s December conviction, pending a second trial due to begin in early 2019. The ban was lifted in February, after prosecutors dropped the remaining charges.