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Australian journalists face court date over Pell trial coverage

A judge in the Australian state of Victoria has proposed beginning a trial in November to prosecute journalists and media outlets for violating a court-imposed reporting ban on the trial of Cardinal George Pell in 2018.

Victoria Supreme Court Judge John Dixon said Tuesday that the trial could begin as soon as November 9, but prosecutors and lawyers for the journalists are still disputing the terms of the trial, Reuters reported.

Prosecutors allege that 19 individuals and 21 media outlets assisted in the violation of the gag order by overseas media and are seeking a single trial. Lawyers representing the accused journalists contend that separate allegations need to be heard in individual trials. Penalties for violating court gag orders include fines of up to 100,000 Australian dollars ($66,000) and five years in prison for individuals.

In December 2018, Cardinal Pell was convicted on five charges of sexual abuse of minors by a court in Victoria. His case was heard on appeal, first by the Victoria Court of Appeal, which upheld his convictions before they were overturned by Australian High Court in April this year, freeing Pell after more than a year in prison.

In 2018, Victoria police brought several charges against Pell related to his time as Archbishop of Melbourne and as a priest in the Diocese of Ballarat. The charges were set to be heard in two successive trials, with the Melbourne accusations heard first. At the request of prosecutors, that trial was subject to a sweeping gag order, with media prohibited from reporting on anything to do with the case or even acknowledge that it was underway.

The ban was dropped in February, 2019, after prosecutors abandoned the Ballarat charges, admitting there was not enough evidence to go to trial.

Despite the order, several international outlets, including CNA, carried news of the trial and verdict in 2018, in some cases blocking that coverage from appearing online in Australia in order to comply with the court order.

Domestic media in Australia mostly complied with the court order, though some media outlets reported that an unnamed high-profile individual had been convicted on unreportable charges.

The Herald Sun newspaper ran a December 12 cover story under the headline “CENSORED” which said that “the world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians.”

“The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this significant news,” the front page read. “But trust us, it is a story you deserve to read.”

Coverage like that, according to Victoria prosecutors, amounted to offering support to overseas outlets in contempt of court.

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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