12 Australian media companies fined for breaking pay orders

A judge has fined a dozen Australian media companies for violating a lien order since the indictment of Cardinal George Pell of child sex abuse.

Dozens of companies, journalists and editors were initially charged with contempt and violating the repression order, which were banned from publication in Australia as of February 2019.

Such suppression orders are common in the Australian and British judicial systems. But the enormous international interest in Australian criminal trials with global ramifications has highlighted the difficulty of enforcing such orders in the digital age.

The media companies pleaded guilty to 21 charges of contempt in a plea deal in the Victoria State Supreme Court in February.

Justice John Dixon said Friday that guilty pleas do not show remorse, but have been filed to protect individual editors, journalists and broadcast presenters from conviction. The individuals had faced possible prison sentences.

The offenses of The Age Company and News Life Media “constituted a coercive and willful defiance of the authority of the Court,” Dixon said.

“Everyone deliberately took a risk by deliberately advancing a collateral attack on the role of suppression orders in Victoria’s criminal justice system,” Dixon said.

The Age Company was fined AU$450,000 ($345,000) and News Life Media AU$400,000 ($306,000).

No foreign news organization has been accused of violating the suppression order. The First Amendment to the US Constitution would prohibit such censorship in the United States, so attempting to extradite an American for violating an Australian repression order would be futile.

Pell’s five sentences have since been overturned and he has returned to the Vatican after spending 13 months in prison.

No Australian media company published direct news reports of Pell’s conviction, but some directed their viewers to international online reports.

Melbourne’s most popular newspaper, the Herald Sun, published a white headline “Censored” on a black front page.

“The world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians,” the newspaper said, referring to residents of the state of Victoria.

The newspaper said it was prevented from “publishing details of this important news”.

The newspaper’s owners, the Herald and the Weekly Times, were fined AU$2,000 ($1,532).

Media companies must pay AU$650,000 ($498,000) in legal costs to prosecutors.


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