Source: Robert Besser

MELBOURNE, Australia: An Australian court has ordered 12 media outlets, most of them owned by Nine Entertainment and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, to pay $842,270 in fines for breaching a gag order when reporting on former Vatican treasurer George Pell’s since-overturned conviction for child sexual assault in 2018.

The media outlets had pleaded guilty to breaching the suppression order in February after the state agreed to drop charges against journalists and editors, Reuters reported.

The County Court of Victoria had gagged coverage of Pell’s trial and verdict in 2018 to ensure a fair trial for the cardinal, who was accused of abusing two choirboys.

After he was found guilty by a jury, Pell – the most senior Catholic church official to be convicted of child sexual assault – spent over a year in prison before his conviction was overturned in April last year.

Despite the gag order, foreign media had published the 2018 verdict, naming Pell and the charges filed against him.

The Australian news outlets, on their part, had made references to Pell’s conviction, and directed readers to online coverage of it, saying they were prevented from publishing this important news.

Fining the media outlets for the breach, Supreme Court of Victoria Justice John Dixon said they had “frustrated the suppression order, as they diminished its purpose or efficacy by reporting information contrary to the terms of the order”.

Dixon fined Nine Entertainment’s The Age newspaper $345,000 and News Corp’s news.com.au website $306,000, saying they “deliberately took a risk by intentionally publishing information derived from the trial to advance a particular purpose – a collateral attack on the role of suppression orders in Victoria’s criminal justice system – that was obviously in conflict with the purpose of the suppression order”.

Dixon said he had taken into account the media’s “sincere and unreserved apology” to the courts while deciding on the penalties.