Prosecutors drop some Pell media charges

Karen Sweeney
·2-min read

Prosecutors have dropped more than a dozen charges against reporters and media companies over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell's sex abuse convictions.

Four days into a Victorian Supreme Court contempt trial where 30 individuals and outlets were facing charges of breaching suppression orders and other reporting rules, part of the case came crashing down.

Crown prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari formally withdrew 13 charges against NewsCorp staff and publications over stories published after the Cardinal was convicted of child sex abuse offences in December 2018.

Cardinal Pell was acquitted by the High Court earlier this year.

A dozen news organisations and 18 journalists have been fighting the charges in a trial before Justice John Dixon, which began on Monday.

Two charges each were withdrawn against the online editors of the Geelong Advertiser, Weekly Times and Adelaide Advertiser.

Single charges were also withdrawn against several NewsCorp websites.

Two charges against journalist Charis Chang - who wrote one of the stories in question - were also dropped and her lawyers are now arguing that she has no case to answer on the others.

Will Houghton QC said the prosecutors hadn't even established that Ms Chang was employed by NewsCorp, let alone establish any proof that she had published the article.

"Ms Chang had no editorial control over the fate of that article ... she relinquished all control to the news editor and the editor-in-chief (Kate) De Brito, who had final say over whether the article be published and in what form," he said.

Ms De Brito, the editor of news.com.au where the story was first posted online, is not accused of contempt.

Mr Houghton is also arguing there is no case against Queensland's Courier Mail or the Sydney's Daily Telegraph and their respective editors Sam Weir and Ben English over claims publication by them may have had a tendency to prejudice a future jury.

Cardinal Pell was due to face a second trial on separate charges, but those were later dropped.

Only 67 print copies of the Courier Mail and 197 of the Daily Telegraph were sold in Victoria - where a jury would be drawn from - on the day the stories ran, which Mr Houghton said was a "miniscule" number unlikely to have the tendency alleged.

Matt Collins QC, representing all other media outlets and individuals, said he planned to make a similar argument on behalf of five journalists, the Sydney Morning Herald and editor Lisa Davies, 2GB radio and presenter Chris Smith.

Previously Ms De Ferrari has argued some of the publications in the days after the guilty verdicts encouraged the public to seek out international news reports which were not subject to the Australian suppression orders and freely named Cardinal Pell.

Defence lawyers countered that claim, noting some of the articles prosecutors referred to were published after the Australian ones.