'Three dozen Australian journalists and publishers are to face court on Monday over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s trial for child sex abuse, with prosecutors seeking fines and jail terms over accusations of breached gag orders in the case.
Prosecutors in the south-eastern state of Victoria have accused the 23 journalists and 13 news outlets of aiding and abetting contempt of court by foreign media, as well as breaching suppression orders.
Among those facing contempt charges are Nine Entertainment Co, Macquarie Media and several News Corp publications.
Although Monday’s hearing is largely procedural, media experts say the case shows not only the serious consequences of breaching rules on court reporting, but also how poorly the rules rein in coverage in the era of digital news.
“It shows that the laws themselves are out of sync with the speed and breadth of publication,” said Mark Pearson, a professor of journalism and social media at Griffith University in Queensland.
“But the courts can only do what is available to them. The courts have to send a message that people deserve a fair trial and that people can’t publish what they want to when someone is facing court, if that might damage the trial.”
Breaches of suppression orders can be punished with jail for up to five years and fines of nearly A$100,000 (£55,000) for individuals, and nearly A$500,000 for companies.
Macquarie Media did not respond to a request for comment but it has previously declined to comment, as the accusations are subject to legal proceedings.
Nine – which owns The Age and Australian Financial Review newspapers – has denied the accusations and said it was surprised by the charges. News Corp has said it will defend itself vigorously.
Pell, who became the most senior Catholic cleric worldwide to be convicted of child sex abuse, was jailed for six years in February.'
Read more: Cardinal George Pell: 36 Australian journalists and publishers face contempt charges over child sex abuse case
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