Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

Australian Prosecutors Trying To Throw Reporters In Jail For Accurately Reporting On Cardinal George Pell's Conviction

from the oh-come-on dept

As we’ve covered over the past few months, Australian courts put an absolutely ridiculous gag order on anyone trying to report about the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, the former CFO of the Vatican (often described as the 3rd most powerful person in the Vatican). Pell was convicted of sexually molesting choir boys in Australia in the 1990s. This is obviously quite newsworthy, but the courts used what’s known as a “suppression order” in Australia to bar anyone from revealing the information. The reasoning was that there was still another trial for Pell over different accusations, and knowing he was convicted for one might somehow unfairly influence a jury. Of course, in the US we’ve long dealt with this through a process of vetting potential jurors on their familiarity, and then simply barring just that juror pool from doing any further research on the issue — and that system works mostly fine, without keeping the public in the dark about important news, and without stifling a free press.

Eventually the suppression order was lifted, after prosecutors decided to drop the second trial (which, at the very least, suggests that all this fuss to protect the sanctity of said second trial was silly all along). And, yet, prosecutors then sent out a bunch of threatening letters to journalists — most of whom did not report publicly on the case, but who did complain about the suppression order.

And now, to show just how far Australian prosecutors will go to spit on free speech and a free press, they are now seeking jail time for members of the media over this whole mess:

Australian prosecutors are seeking jail and fines for dozens of journalists and media outlets for alleged contempt of court over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell?s child sex abuse trial last year, a court summons showed on Tuesday.

The Director of Public Prosecutions in Victoria has asked the state?s Supreme Court to send journalists to jail or impose fines for breaching a suppression order on coverage of the trial, aiding and abetting overseas media?s contempt of court, and ?scandalizing the court?.

The only things “scandalizing” here are (1) George Pell’s actions for which he was convicted, and (2) the prosecutors now going after journalists for their free speech.

Apparently there will be a hearing on April 15th for 23 journalists and 13 media organizations. It appears that it includes some of the top media organizations in Australia (The Age, Australian Financial Review, News Corp, etc.) and some fairly prominent journalists, including Michael Stutchbury, the editor-in-chief of the Australian Financial Review.

One hopes that prosecutors would come to their senses earlier, but now we have to hope a judge has more sense about this. Unfortunately, given other free speech cases in Australia over the years, I have little faith that this will end up well. Australia is making quite a name for itself as a country that believes in heavy handed censorship, and is against free speech.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Australian Prosecutors Trying To Throw Reporters In Jail For Accurately Reporting On Cardinal George Pell's Conviction”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
38 Comments
Daydream says:

I dunno, "We don’t want to influence any potential jurors of a second trial." is actually a fairly good reason to order a suppression order on reporting about a trial. Especially considering how sex offences are sensationalised all the time.

…Wait, hold on, are you saying that journalists are being prosecuting for reporting AFTER the suppression order was lifted? I take it back, that’s jackassery at its finest.

kyle clements (profile) says:

In America, my understanding is that jurors are sequestered, where they are put into hotels and forbidden from watching or reading any news for the duration of the trial, out of fear the media coverage will influence their decisions.

In other countries, we find this loss of juror freedom to be unreasonable , so instead, we ban the media from covering elements of a trial until it is over, so the jurors are still free to go home and be with their family and friends, and the media will not influence their decisions.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s sad because that totally assumes that people are incapable of making a decision based on evidence – that a sensationalized account on Fox TV or the National Enquirer (to put it in US terms) will form the whole of their opinion on the matter. It’s even sadder that that is actually the case most of the time.

Fortunately, here in the US, nobody watches the news or reads the papers, so it doesn’t matter. šŸ˜€

Anonymous Coward says:

I still don’t agree with your statements that a suppression order was unnecessary. (Not going to rehash old arguments.)
But I do agree this trial is pure BS. Almost every news organisation indicted simply published an article like "Something happened, but we’re not allowed to tell you what." I am not aware of any journalists or news outlets that reported details early. At worst, it’s a case of following the letter of the order, not its spirit, but that’s not criminal.

Hopefully the judge overseeing this throws out the case.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re:

Some of these guys they’re going after because they have a presence in Australia even though the published in their foreign division – Australia, for some reason, believes that the act of publishing happens where the reader is and not where the publisher hits ‘enter’.

So Australians saw this information by looking at foreign news sources owned by Australian companies or divisions of companies.

The Central Scrutinizer (profile) says:

Freedom of the press in the Internet age

The Herald Sun had a front page here that said, and I’m paraphrasing, CENSORED, THE BIGGEST STORY WE’RE NOT ALLOWED TO REPORT.
We all sussed what is was anyway, because of previous and well known publicity about the charges against Pell.
So we just went to overseas media outlets to read the story.
This abuse and covering it up has been an ongoing issue for literally decades , but we apparently have no right to hear about an important trial because it might "scandalise the court". Fuck off.
What has scandalised Australian society all these years is the criminal abuse of innocent children by the catholic church and its systematic cover ups by that same organisation.
Persecuting journalists and media outlets for having the temerity to complain that they can’t report about something, even when they don’t mention that something by name, would set an incredibly dangerous precedent.
The law should drag its arse into the 21st century.

TimK (profile) says:

If I were an Australian journalist....

If I were an Australian journalist I would FOR SURE be going after "The Director of Public Prosecutions". It would be an all-out assault. I would have reporters digging through their past, their trash, interviewing their friends and neighbors, track down their report cards from high school, everything.
Everyone has baggage….time to dig it up and make it public. Write articles about them every single day. Show them the power of the press!

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: If I were an Australian journalist....

And that is classified as harassment and provocation is even more of an offence and more easy to prove than contempt of court.

Also stop conflating US laws with other jurisdictions.

Since realistically US is no better or worse than anywhere else in Free Speech laws since it only works if you have the wherewithal to take things to your VERY expensive courts but hey.. think your living in a free democratic society as much as you want.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Overseas Media", as it were, is not subject to Australian laws.

A newspaper is only subject to the laws of the country where it is based.

That is why, for example, the Guardian can never be prosecuted for reporting the Edward Snowden leaks, though there are prosecutors who would like to. Since the Guardian is a British newspaper, what is prints is only subject to British laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

The reasoning was that there was still another trial for Pell over different accusations, and knowing he was convicted for one might somehow unfairly influence a jury.

Am I the only one who doesn’t get what the big deal is? I mean, wouldn’t you reasonably expect the fact that he was convicted elsewhere for another instance of the same crime to be brought up at trial anyway, by the prosecution, to help establish the defendant’s character?

Why is it bad for a juror to be "influenced" by something they’re virtually guaranteed to find out at the trial, presented with the express goal of influencing them? None of this makes any sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

wouldn’t you reasonably expect the fact that he was convicted elsewhere for another instance of the same crime to be brought up at trial anyway, by the prosecution, to help establish the defendant’s character?

In Australia, claims about the defendant’s character (as well as any evidence intended to establish their character, such as prior convictions) are inadmissible in court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not as weird as having another country’s flag sitting in the top left hand corner of the Australian flag more than 100 years after Australia became separate from the United Kingdom.
Though it’s only been about 50 years since they stopped using the United Kingdom’s court system as the final arbitor of the Australian legal system.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why? its about not having "motice" as a huge weird thing that can prove you did something without any evidence whatsoever.

Character and what someone did in the past should NEVER be brought up in a trial (other than in very very limited circumstances if it is HIGHLY relevant and even then character can only be used if the defence brings it up – dumb movet) .

With telling a trier of facts or trier of guilt previous convictions or character you are defeating the principal of presumption of innocence since EVERY matter is on the instance of that alleged action not on what occurred beforehand.

Remember the prosecution in Criminal actions has the whole burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the relevant, admissible, and probable EVIDENCE PROVES that the defendant did what they allege.

The defendant doesn’t have to prove anything (except for certain defences like insanity or self defence…but then they only have to raise them on balance of probabilities and prosecution has to rebut them using BRD)

Just because someone might have committed a crime weeks ago that was similar does not mean they committed it again and telling teh jury that would instantly form in there minds a bias.

Though prior convictions DO get looked at in Sentencing.. very much so. They are highly aggravating factors. The Same as no convictions is highly mitigating and will reduce a sentence (most states do not have mandatory sentences)

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Australia

You mean other than Gun Laws, Social medicine and prescriptions, Social schooling, Cheap and OPEN University education, Actual democratic voting system, the list goes on.

But hey.. one thing about so called "Freedom of Speech" Which we do not possess as a right and neither does ANYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET other the the USA (and thats debatable) and Australia is equatable to a thrid world country.

So which two countries still hasn’t signed the UN Rights of the Child even as a treaty? One is Somalia.. the other.. oh that bastion of so called democracy.. where everyone can shoot anyone else and where children are treated as adults and languish in prisons (or even death row) forever.

need I say more?

Stop conflating US laws with other countries! The dissonance is amazing

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop Ā»