Menu lock


Jun 30, 2017

Live in spin: Pell’s historically rocky relationship with the free press

What George Pell said at a recent media conference was perfectly consistent with his attitude and actions with regard to the media all along, writes former Eureka Street editor Michael Mullins.

George Pell

Cardinal George Pell told the media in his short but candid statement yesterday that he was returning to Australia to “clear my name”. He repeated that phrase, “clear my name”.

That came after his double-barrelled opening reference to the media’s “relentless character assassination — relentless character assassination”.

He did not say that he was coming to Australia so that justice could be achieved or truth uncovered. That was left to Pope Francis, whose reference to the “foster[ing of] the search for truth” was conveyed immediately after Pell’s statement.

The cardinal did not mention truth or justice.

What he said at the media conference was perfectly consistent with his attitude and actions with regard to the media all along. Arguably an indifference to, or even fear of, their role in the search for truth in the context of justice.

The evidence for this is in his habitual hostility to media practitioners who see their role as uncovering and reporting the truth regardless of the consequences for the good name of a person or an institution. He was true to form when he began yesterday’s statement with a criticism of the role of the media in the laying of charges against him. 

One of his first actions after becoming archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 was to close the Archdiocese’s communications office. 

Over the years, Catholic Communications had gained considerable respect, particularly from its secular media peers, for its practice of objective journalism in radio and TV production. That is where I learned my first principles of journalism and media practice in the 1980s.

The sacked director of Catholic Communications Peter Thomas had a Vatican II view of the “pilgrim” Church of the people. In media terms, this translated into practice that owed a lot to that of public service broadcasters like the ABC and the BBC.

Pell’s ecclesiology represented a retreat from Vatican II to a more “top down” hierarchical model. For him, the Church was more like a corporation that was best run along business lines. That is why he replaced Catholic Communications with an outsourcing of the work to corporate communications firm Royce Communications. I would suggest that this represented a decisive and deliberate shift from truth-tellers to spin doctors.

Pell’s actions and attitudes towards the media over the years have demonstrated either a lack of appreciation of its role in truth-telling. If, as he stated yesterday, he is innocent of the “false” charges laid against him, it is in his interest not to condemn the truth-telling media but to trust and embrace it.

*Michael Mullins is a Sydney blogger who is former editor of Eureka Street

*This article was originally published at


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

6 thoughts on “Live in spin: Pell’s historically rocky relationship with the free press

  1. Barbara Haan

    Wouldn’t that be a great day, for Pell to embrace the media? It would certainly help his public persona in Australia. Unfortunately, his arrogance and innate sense of superiority have been against him from the beginning.

  2. old greybearded one

    I am afraid I consider Pell to be a Machiavellian protector of pedophiles and as part of the beatified John Paul II clique I have no regard for him. I have no religion, but was raised in the austere Presbyterian Church where the kindness of Christ to children and the importance of his example for us all. Where did this Jesus go to in Pell’s warped church?

  3. Peter Wileman

    Pell is either a poorly understood, arrogant, but effective administrator who is innocent of the charges against him, or he really can’t believe there is a higher being who will sit in judgement of him. What we have to be careful of, is making him another case like Lindy Chamberlain, where public opinion becomes the judicial system.

    1. Barbara Haan

      Very salient point Peter, re Lindy Chamberlain. Unfortunately, his attitude throughout hasn’t helped him one jot. I certainly would not be able to act as an impartial member of a jury if he was involved.

    2. zut alors

      It wasn’t initially public opinion which was hostile to Lindy Chamberlain, it was the media.

      At the time I was embedded in that industry & saw, firsthand, how editors were poised to frame & crucify her from Day One.

      1. Barbara Haan

        Thanks for that take on the whole Lindy Chamberlain affair from a journos point of view. I was living overseas at the time and feared my fellow Aussies were going nuts.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.