Australian media admit breaching Pell reporting blackout

·2-min read
A judge issued the suppression order in December 2018 to prevent news of Pell's convictions from prejudicing jurors

Australian media organisations have admitted violating a gag order in Cardinal George Pell's now-quashed sex crimes case, in a surprise plea deal that saw charges against individual editors and journalists dropped.

After nearly two years of legal wrangling, some of the country's most prominent news outlets on Monday agreed to plead guilty to contempt of court for breaching suppression orders barring reporting on Pell's now-overturned convictions.

Among them were several of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp mastheads -- including Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's Herald Sun online -- as well as newspapers Australian Financial Review and Melbourne's The Age, both owned by broadcaster Nine Entertainment.

Charges against individual editors and reporters were dropped as part of the plea agreement between prosecutors and defence lawyers.

A judge issued the suppression order in December 2018 to prevent news of Pell's convictions from prejudicing jurors in an expected second trial on child sex abuse charges that were subsequently dropped in early 2019.

The order meant Pell's 2018 convictions for abusing two choirboys in the 1990s -- which were overturned last April by the High Court -- initially could not be reported in Australia, including on the internet.

Court documents show the Victoria state director of public prosecutions dropped additional contempt charges against several publications as well as all individuals named in the case.

"Given the plea and acceptance of responsibility in respect of each publication... the Director has determined that it is in the public interest to withdraw the remaining charges," the prosecution said.

Editors and reporters had faced possible jail time if found guilty.

The media outlets ran cryptic articles saying they had been barred from reporting on a story of major public interest involving a high-profile Australian after US outlets broke the story.

Prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari previously called the local coverage an "invitation to read" the news about Pell that had been published online by outlets outside Australia.

The media companies have agreed to pay the prosecution's costs and face large fines for the breaches.

A pre-sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin on February 10.