In an unprecedented attack on press freedom in Australia, 23 journalists and 13 media outlets have been hit with charges relating to the child sexual abuse trial of Catholic cardinal George Pell. The accused include Australia's two biggest newspaper
companies, Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News and the former Fairfax group now owned by broadcaster Nine, as well as leading newspaper editors and reporters.
The media and reporters are accused of abetting contempt of court by the
foreign press and of scandalising the court by breaching a gagging order, despite none of them reporting on the charges involved or mentioning Pell by name. The court had banned all reporting of the case pending a second trial that was later cancelled.
Some foreign media, including The New York Times and the Washington Post , reported Pell's conviction in December, while local media ran cryptic articles complaining that they were being prevented from reporting a story of major public interest.
Matthew Collins, representing the accused media at the first hearing on the matter today, said such wide-ranging contempt charges had no precedent in Australian legal history. Collins added that a guilty verdict on any of the charges would have a
chilling effect on open justice in Australia. He insisted that the contempt allegations lacked specific examples of how any of the accused news companies or journalists actually breached the gag order when they never mentioned Pell or the crimes for
which he was convicted.