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Australia is demanding heavy fines from the media for violating the gag order in the Pell case

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former Vatican Treasurer Pell arrives in Rome from Australia

From Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Prosecutors have asked an Australian court to impose heavy fines on media outlets guilty of violating a 2018 Suppression Order after convicting former Vatican treasurer George Pell of child sexual assault had reported.

Pell’s conviction for molesting two choirboys was overturned last April after being incarcerated for more than a year, but the trial’s media contempt didn’t clear until Wednesday, more than two years after his trial.

In 2018, Victoria District Court Chief Justice Peter Kidd imposed an Australian ban on reporting on Pell’s trial to protect himself from jury prejudice in a second case that the cardinal would face the following year.

However, foreign media reported his conviction while the ban was in place, and Australian media subsequently reported that a prominent, unnamed person had been convicted of a serious crime they were unable to cover. Some referred to foreign coverage of the case.

After battling the original 211 charges against 36 companies, reporters, editors and broadcasters, 12 media outlets agreed last week to find 21 violations of the Suppression Ordinance guilty. All other charges were dismissed.

The fine for violating a suppression ordinance is up to A $ 500,000 ($ 388,000) for businesses.

At the trial in the Victoria Supreme Court, the prosecutor moved severe penalties for most of the outlets acting in bad faith and taking a “calculated risk” to tell stories that violated an order that was clearly unrelated to them attempt had to be reported.

The prosecutor also alleged the companies published the stories to pressure Judge Kidd to change his repressive ordinance – which the media had denied.

Lawyers for the companies, largely owned by News Corp (NASDAQ 🙂 and Nine Entertainment Co, said those arguments were wrongly made at the hearing.

“We’re blind to it. It’s not the way the case was brought and it’s an accusation of malice, like an accusation of fraud,” said Matthew Collins, representative for Nine Entertainment and online news service mamamia.

News Corp and Nine lawyers said the penalties should be light as the media had shown remorse and remorse through their confession and apology to the courts, did not intend to violate the Suppression Ordinance, and agreed to pay A 650,000 Pay $ to cover attorney’s expenses.

($ 1 = 1.2897 Australian dollars)

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