Australia media face 'chilling' contempt charges over Pell reporting: lawyer

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Australia media face ‘chilling’ contempt charges over Pell reporting: lawyer

Deutsche Welle

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Australia media face chilling contempt charges over Pell reporting: lawyer
Australia media face ‘chilling’ contempt charges over Pell reporting: lawyer. picture alliance/dpa/E. Anderson
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A lawyer defending several Australian media outlets against contempt charges over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s child sex abuse conviction told a court on Monday that the accusations were without precedent.

“There are simply no cases of which we are aware in Australia where media organizations, editors or journalists have been charged, much less found guilty, of contempt in circumstances such as these,” Matthew Collins told a first administrative hearing in the case, in comments carried by local media.

Collins added that a guilty verdict would have a “chilling effect” on open justice and democracy in the country.

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‘Scandalizing the court’

Prosecutors in the eastern state of Victoria have accused the 23 journalists and 13 news outlets of breaching a gag order on reporting on Pell’s trial last year. The cardinal was found guilty of abusing two choirboys and given a six-year prison sentence. He is appealing his conviction.

The journalists and news organizations face prison or fines for contempt of court, aiding and abetting overseas media, breaching a suppression order and “scandalizing the court” with materials they published.

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Request for more details

Collins asked prosecutors to give more information about how Australian media outlets had violated the court order if they had not mentioned Pell’s name or his conviction.

“I am at a loss to understand how they could have scandalized the court,” he said, adding: “They didn’t reference the cardinal, just referred to the fact that there was a broader story that could not be told.”

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