Some of Australia’s largest media groups have pleaded guilty to contempt of court over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s since-overturned conviction in a sexual abuse case.
Twelve outlets admitted to breaching a legal order in 2018 that banned the cardinal from being identified – even though none named him in news coverage.
Under the plea agreement, charges against 15 journalists were dropped.
The pleas brought the trial – which began last week – to an abrupt end.
The original legal ban, known as a suppression order, had been ordered by a judge in Melbourne to avoid the possibility of prejudicing a separate legal case. That case was later aborted by prosecutors.
Publishers of newspapers including The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as well as one of the most popular commercial radio networks, Sydney’s 2GB, admitted charges on Monday.
They include Australia’s two biggest media companies, News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment, among others
Much of the news coverage, in December 2018, criticised the secrecy of the case without naming Cardinal Pell specifically.
Front-page newspaper headlines included: “Nation’s biggest story: The story we can’t report”; and “Secret scandal. It’s Australia’s biggest story. A high-profile person found guilty of a terrible crime. The world is reading about it but we can’t tell you a word.”
Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions argued those headlines were nonetheless prejudicial to other legal proceedings.
The High Court of Australia later overturned the guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell, once one of the Pope’s most senior advisers.
On Monday, prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari said the plea deal provided “acceptance of responsibility in respect of each publication”, adding it was “in the public interest to withdraw the remaining charges” against individual journalists.
Additional contempt of court charges against the publications were also withdrawn.