Twelve Australian media have been fined by the judge in that country for reporting the criminal case against Cardinal George Pell. He was tried in 2018 for sexual abuse of choirboys in the mid-nineties of the last century. Media organisations have to pay amounts ranging from more than 600 euros to more than 280,000 euros.
Pell was the closest advisor to Pope Francis and the third man in the Vatican. He was the highest official of the Roman Catholic Church who was suspected of abuse.
To ensure that Pell would receive a fair trial that would not be influenced by public opinion, the Australian court ruled that media could not report on the trial and its outcome. Such a gag order is not uncommon in countries with a legal system based on British law.
When Pell was found guilty in December 2018, it placed the media in Australia in a difficult position. The case attracted a lot of attention worldwide, all international news organizations reported about it, but that was banned by the media in Australia.
No Australian news organization dared to report directly about the trial and the verdict against Pell. Some reported that they were unable to report a trial against a high-ranking figure. In some cases, references were made to publications in foreign media.
The biggest newspaper in Melbourne came out with a black front page, with the word “CENSURE” in white letters. Underneath it said, “The world reads an important story. The Herald Sun is not allowed to publish the details. But trust us, the story is worth reading”.
Australian justice found that twelve media had violated the gag order, which was lifted in early 2019, and started a trial. The media organizations admitted that they had been guilty of violating the publication ban.
In this way, they prevented individual editors, reporters or presenters from being prosecuted as well. They could even get prison sentences. The fines for the twelve media together are about 700,000 euros and the costs of the proceedings are added.
Pell was sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty. He was imprisoned pending the appeal. In the appeal case, the judgment remained upheld, but in cassation he was upheld.
The Australian Supreme Court unanimously ruled in April last year that there was a lack of evidence for the suspicion of sexual abuse. Pell came out after more than a year of prison.