Charges have been dropped against a newspaper editor and radio identity for reporting of the Cardinal George Pell sex abuse convictions.
The editor of Melbourne’s tabloid Herald Sun newspaper, Damon Johnston, and 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley will no longer be prosecuted, however dozens of Australian news organisations and editorial staff still face charges.
It is considered an unprecedented media case in Australia, and possibly globally, in terms of the large number of respondents.
Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions on Monday dropped proceedings against Johnston and Hadley, Supreme Court documents revealed.
But more than 30 news organisations and editorial staff are still facing charges of contempt of court, and aiding and abetting overseas media over their coverage of the cardinal’s convictions.
Among those are The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Nine Entertainment, The Australian Financial Review, Macquarie Media and website Mamamia.
Journalists and editors have demanded more details of allegations they breached a suppression order and helped foreign media report Pell’s child sexual abuse verdict after a jury found him guilty of five charges in December 2018.
Pell was found guilty of attacking two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s.
Suppression orders during the December trial prevented publication of the verdict in Australia until February, however overseas news outlets were reporting the conviction of the high-ranking Vatican figure.
While not naming Pell or alluding to the crime, the Herald Sun’s front-page headline alerted readers to the fact the rest of the world was able to report the conviction.
Front page of Thursday's edition of Australia's Herald Sun: "CENSORED"
"A statement to our readers…The world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians. The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this significant news." https://t.co/bzFOluucy9 pic.twitter.com/J0vSkBrB1g
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) December 12, 2018
Victoria’s County Court had suppressed reporting because a second trial was due on other charges in April 2019. It collapsed in February, and the suppression order was lifted.
Some media outlets had alluded to the verdict – without naming Pell – while the suppression was still in place.
No Australian media named Pell or the charges at the time. But some foreign media did, resulting in the story going viral on social media.
At one point, after the conviction, the verdict was No. 2 in trends on social media platform Twitter.
Victoria’s director of Public Prosecutions said a series of publications and broadcasts on December 13 last year were in contempt.
The media organisations’ lawyer, Matthew Collins QC, labelled the case “as serious as it gets” in a Supreme Court hearing in April, suggesting guilty findings could have a chilling effect on open justice in Australia.
Justice John Dixon had ordered prosecutors file detailed statements of claim against all individuals facing charges by Monday, and the defence to file responses by June 21.
Pell is appealing his convictions and denies any wrongdoing.