When the Victorian Supreme Court lifted its suppression order on Cardinal George Pell’s conviction yesterday, the Australian media was ready to go with news stories and features about last year’s trial.
The story — over which most of the country’s media outlets have been sent “show cause” letters by the Victorian Department of Public Prosecutions for attempts to cover it in December — has dominated front pages around the country today:
The lead-time on this story gave the commentators plenty of time to prepare their immediate takes, most of which were also measured. Moving accounts of how the trial and verdict played out, as well as reports of the media suppressions were published within hours of the order being lifted. One of the most-tweeted takes yesterday was David Marr’s piece for Guardian Australia about Pell’s hypocrisy in his teaching and actions.
It doesn’t get much more contrarian on this topic than News Corp columnists Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine. Bolt’s column — which has the air of having been thoroughly checked by lawyers — claims Pell was falsely convicted — “in my opinion” — while Devine compares Pell to Lindy Chamberlain, saying he is a “sacrificial lamb”.
Vice Chancellor of Australian Catholic University Greg Craven has been more specific in who he blames for Pell’s conviction: it’s the ABC and Fairfax journalists’ fault for tarring Pell’s reputation before he went to trial. “This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” he wrote. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”
There’s nothing the media and media lawyers like talking about more than themselves, and that includes suppression orders, and especially suppression orders in Victoria.
So once the suppression order around Pell’s trial — blatantly and “proudly” breached by international publications — was lifted, the takes quickly started on how futile the practice is. Richard Ackland wrote for Guardian Australia calling the suppression order in this case “nonsensical”, and Arthur Moses SC, president of the Law Council, told Radio National today there needed to be a national inquiry into the use of suppression orders in Australia.
Outrage at the outrage takes
Prepare for more outrage in coming days, in response to Devine, Bolt, and others. It’s already begun, as News Corp is already (fairly) being criticised online for pushing the opinions of people still defending Pell, now a convicted paedophile.