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: australia, free press, free speech, gag order, george pell, injunction, jailtime, journalism, suppression order


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 4:18pm

    Lock em up

    As that annoying AC likes to brag, "Truth is no defense against defamation."

    At least when you move the goalposts and re-define defamation...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 28 Mar 2019 @ 4:23pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:50pm

      Re:

      So restraining a nation of 25 million people potentially for years so that you can, if it comes to that, make it easier to find 13ish who haven't been paying attention to the news?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kyle clements (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 5:09pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 5:18pm

      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. :D

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 5:33pm

      Re:

      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.

      Very, very rarely. In a few cases, that is ordered. But much more common is just the judge telling the jury that they are not allowed to do any outside research or pay attention to any news about the case -- and if they are found out to have disobeyed that instruction, they can face serious legal consequences.

      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 in order to allow approximately a dozen people some bit of freedom, you take away a bigger freedom from the entire population? If the goal here is the least amount of harm, I'd argue that the US method is way better.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Roddy (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:36pm

      Honestly, more than anything, I'm more concerned that said "other countries" have so much control over their media. That sounds quite alarming…

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:06pm

        Re:

        Honestly, more than anything, I'm more concerned that said "mainstream media" have so much control over their country. That sounds quite alarming…

        There, fixed it for you down under.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Roddy (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:29pm

          Re: Re:

          There, fixed it for you down under.

          If by "fixed" you mean "changed it to a completely different statement that has no relation to the original and a completely different meaning." Nobody's claiming that the media controls anything here.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:51pm

      Re:

      So you find the loss of freedom of multiple millions of people more palatable?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:19pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Agammamon, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:54pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:20pm

    Parallel Constructions

    Why does this story make me think about how the Catholic Church tried to make me responsible for original sin? I didn't buy that one either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 6:23pm

      Re: Parallel Constructions

      Well, the Catholic Church still has enough power to dictate what news articles can and can't be allowed in Australia.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:25pm

    Austrailia..."Streisand??? Never heard of her."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 28 Mar 2019 @ 8:29pm

    Scandal, scandal, scandal.

    Wow, sounds like there are relationships between the Catholic Church and the Australian justice system that might make Pell's activities pedestrian by comparison.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Central Scrutinizer (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:32am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TimK (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 5:48am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 7:29am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 5:56am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 6:11am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 7:01am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 7:22am

        Re: Re:

        Wow, really?

        Australia is weird!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 29 Mar 2019 @ 4:15pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          G Thompson (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 7:39am

          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)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2019 @ 1:15am

        Re: Re:

        What about age and sex? Is that kept hidden as well?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 29 Mar 2019 @ 11:45am

    Australia

    Let's stop comparing Australia to the US when it comes to suggesting what the US might do to solve its myriad of problems. Australia is showing to be not a shining example of how a state should work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 7:46am

      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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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