Dozens of Australian journalists may face jail time for their coverage of Vatican Treasurer George Pell’s child sex-abuse trial. Pell was found guilty in 2018 of abusing two boys, but a court suppression order prohibited media from reporting about the trial at the time to ensure Pell a fair second trial on further abuse charges. On Tuesday, those charges were dropped, lifting the suppression order. When Pell was found guilty, some Australian media ran headlines and articles referring to a trial where an “unnamed high-profile person” was convicted of a serious crime. Australian reporters and editors have been issued with legal notices asking why they should not be charged with contempt of court. The suppression order applied to Australian journalists, “and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia.” The Daily Beast was the first to report on Pell’s conviction by “geo-blocking” the story from Australian readers in accordance with the order.
“A number of very important people in the media are facing, if found guilty, the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment,” threatened Judge Peter Kidd, who oversaw the Pell trial. The maximum penalty for contempt of court in Victoria, Australia, is five years jail time and a fine of more than $69,000.