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Media companies argue no case to answer in Pell contempt trial

Prosecutors allege the media breached a suppression order and other rules by reporting that a high-profile person had been found guilty of serious charges, when another trial loomed.

Cardinal Pell was released from prison in April when his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s was overturned and he was acquitted following a successful appeal to the High Court.

On Friday barrister Matt Collins, QC, whose clients include The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and journalists from those mastheads, rejected allegations that Australian reports easily led people to overseas reports that named Cardinal Pell.

Some overseas reports did not exist until after the Australian reports were published or broadcast, Dr Collins said.

The court heard on Wednesday that eight of the 12 online searches prosecutors did looking for stories naming Cardinal Pell, using reference terms such as “high profile Australian convicted”, yielded nothing in the fortnight after the conviction, when the internet would normally show more material and not less.

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The unsuccessful searches were a “devastating, bazooka-sized” hole in the prosecution case, Dr Collins said.

Lead prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari, SC, said the Australian reports were in contempt because they referred to a conviction, an accused being found guilty, a serious crime and that an accused person was due to face a second trial.

It was “plainly correct”, she said, to suggest the prosecution case was reliant on allegations the reports encouraged readers to look for more information.

Ms De Ferrari will expand on her arguments on Monday.

On Thursday prosecutors withdrew some charges against News Corp publications The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Advertiser in Adelaide, the Geelong Advertiser and The Weekly Times and three of the company’s digital editors.

The County Court imposed a suppression order over Cardinal Pell’s case because at the time of his conviction he was to face another trial.

The court lifted the suppression order, allowing media to name the cardinal and report his conviction, in February last year when prosecutors abandoned the second trial.

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