Media to pay $650,000 over Pell contempt

·2-min read

Media companies facing fines for publishing details of Cardinal George Pell's child sexual abuse convictions have also agreed to pay $650,000 to cover prosecution costs.

A dozen media companies pleaded guilty to breaching a suppression order, banning publication of Cardinal Pell's conviction in December 2018.

His conviction, overturned last year by the High Court, could not legally be reported in Australia until the order was lifted in February 2019.

But a number of newspapers and websites published articles and editorials referencing a guilty verdict in the trial of a high-profile Australian.

More than 100 charges were laid by Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions more than two years ago, but were whittled down to just 21 charges earlier this month, with 12 corporations pleading guilty to breaching the order made by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.

Prosecutors are calling for convictions and fines for the organisations, in a pre-sentence hearing in Victoria's Supreme Court.

While the financial penalty is at the discretion of Justice John Dixon, the guilty companies have agreed to cover the cost of bringing the case against them.

Will Hougton QC, representing News Corp companies, said that amounted to $650,000 between the organisations.

That's in addition to their own legal fees.

Mr Houghton said the suppression order breaches by his clients - news.com.au, Brisbane's Courier Mail and Sydney's Daily Telegraph - occurred because of an error in judgment.

He said a conscious and deliberate decision was made to publish the articles, but it was with the honest belief they did not breach a suppression order.

Mr Houghton said the companies and their then-editors offered unqualified, sincere and personal apologies to the Supreme Court, the County Court and Judge Kidd for the publication of the articles.

Media lawyer Sandip Mukerjea said they would argue that media companies should not face additional fines for their conduct, saying in some circumstances the prosecution, the burden of trial and an order of costs is enough to vindicate the public interest.

He said the personal strain on journalists and editors - who had initially been subject to charges - was relevant to their argument, as well as the burden that strain put on the companies themselves.

The hearing is expected to take two days.