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Digital News Major Factor As Oz Media Face Fines & Jail

The growing access to overseas-based digital news available to Australians appears set to be raised in court today when 30-odd Australian journalists and publishers face charges over coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s trial for child sex abuse.

Prosecutors are reportedly seeking fines and in some cases jail terms over accusations of that the journalists and their employers breached official gag orders in the case.

Among those facing contempt charges include Nine Entertainment, the Age, the Australian Financial Review, Macquarie Media and several News Corp publications, the Reuters news service reports,

Reuters quotes media experts saying the case shows not only the serious consequences of breaching rules on court reporting, but also how poorly the rules rein in coverage in the era of digital news.

Nine, which owns The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, has denied the accusations. News Corp has said it will defend itself “vigorously”.

The county court of Victoria put a suppression order on reporting of Pell’s trial last year to prevent jury prejudice in that case, as well as on a second trial on other charges set for March. In December, the jury in the first trial found Pell guilty of abusing two choir boys.

After the verdict, some Australian media said an unnamed high-profile person had been convicted of a serious crime that could not be reported.

Reuters says that those who published online do not have offices or staff in Australia and hence have not been not charged.

However some have lobbied against it. “Gag orders are futile in a case of global interest in the digital age,” said Steven Butler, an official of the Washington-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

He added: “We urge Australian authorities to drop these proceedings and to re-examine the application of such suppression orders.”

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