Pell Decries ABC, Warns Against Taking Media Coverage as ‘Gospel’

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at
April 14, 2020Updated: April 18, 2020

Cardinal George Pell has criticised how Australia’s national broadcaster handled its reporting of his trial, weighing in on a debate regarding the media’s coverage of the child sexual abuse allegations and convictions against him that have since been dismissed in the country’s highest court.

In a pre-recorded television interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News, which is due to air tonight, April 14, Pell accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) of joining the media that only reported one side of the story.

“These things have to be tested respectfully,” Pell says. “The pendulum 30 or 40 years ago was massively against anybody who said that they had been attacked. … Nowadays, we don’t want to just swing back so that every accusation is regarded as gospel truth. That would be quite unjust and inappropriate.”

“But in a national broadcaster, to have an overwhelming presentation of one view and only one view, I think that’s a betrayal of the national interest.”

Pell was released from Barwon Prison, near Geelong, on April 7 after the High Court unanimously upheld his appeal of a guilty jury conviction in 2018. That jury was the second to convene on the case after a hung jury during an initial trial.

The court found (pdf) that in the previous trials, the jury and Victoria’s Court of Appeal had “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place.”

This gave enough cause for the court to believe there was a “reasonable doubt” that Pell committed the alleged crime. As a result, his convictions were quashed.

Pell’s interview with Bolt continues an ongoing debate over media coverage of his case.

The ABC’s editorial director, Craig McMurtrie, published a piece on April 11 defending the broadcaster’s coverage of the high profile case.

McMurtrie said in his article, “ABC editorial policies make very clear that it is the job of the public broadcaster’s journalists to report ‘without fear or favour, even when that might be uncomfortable or unpopular.’

“Some of the language thrown around in the aftermath of the High Court ruling about ‘prejudice’ and a ‘witch-hunt’ against George Pell seems to ignore the first principles of journalism and the facts.”

Bolt criticised the article in his column, saying, “Not one single ABC presenter or reporter at any time pointed out that the many allegations the ABC aired against Pell were inherently implausible.

“ABC staff instead routinely treated them as not just credible, but often true.”

He continued: “Like so many at the ABC, McMurtrie confuses the (false) allegations against Pell with the (true) allegations against his Church, so that Pell becomes the (innocent) scapegoat for his (guilty) church—exactly the distorted thinking that led to his jailing.”

Alex Wake, Senior Lecturer of Journalism at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University disagreed with Pell’s and Bolt’s comments about the ABC’s coverage.

She told The Epoch Times, “I can understand why he’s [Pell] saying that. The ABC has covered his case with determined doggedness, and unlike other media outlets, not many news organisations covered his trial from the get-go.

“It was a story of national and international significance. … It was important to be covered by the national broadcaster.”

“I don’t think that criticisms of the ABC’s … coverage are really valid,” she said.

Wake said there are lessons to learn from the polarising nature of the Pell case and how different organisations were publicising their views.

“I mean both sides could take a break on this and take a step back and try to consider why the others are coming to [attack] their points of view,” she said.