Dozens of journalists and media outlets that reported on the sex abuse conviction of the world’s most high-ranking Catholic cleric ever charged with such crimes could face fines or jail time for breaching a gag order.
In December, a jury convicted Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys decades ago. But before the verdict was handed down, Judge Peter Kidd in Melbourne’s County Court of Victoria forbade details of the trial to be published, out of concern that it could influence the jury in a second trial awaiting Pell.
Not only could reporters not publish their coverage of Pell’s trial but a blanket ban prevented them from even reporting that a suppression order existed, Jason Bosland, the deputy director of the Center for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne University, tells NPR.
As journalists walked into the open court for the proceedings, they were met at the door with a copy of the suppression rules, according to Reuters.
This week, after additional charges going back to the 1970s were dropped in the second trial, the gag order was lifted.
The powerful cleric’s sex abuse conviction could officially go public.
But now, more than 100 notices have been sent to journalists, bloggers and media organizations, Bosland tells NPR from Australia. Kerri Judd, director of public prosecutions in Victoria State, notified recipients of an intent to charge them with offenses for their coverage of the trial.
Bosland described the charges as not just violating the suppression order but aiding and abetting gag order breaches in international media, scandalizing the court, and sub judice contempt.