The ABC has backed its journalists and its reporting on George Pell after the cardinal’s release from jail prompted a spate of attacks on the national broadcaster by Pell supporters.
Minutes after Pell’s conviction was quashed by the high court, the News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt posted a blog saying the cardinal was innocent and pointing the finger at the ABC for allegedly conducting a witch-hunt to have him convicted.
Bolt, who has an exclusive interview with Pell on his Sky News program at a date yet to be announced, said the national broadcaster had “with one voice persecuted him for years with false claims and never once had a presenter express doubt about this crusade to destroy him”.
“Shame on the ABC, our national broadcaster, for hysterically pushing damaging claims against Pell that all turned out to be too absurd to lead to charges, or too flimsy to go to trial, or, now, too weak to survive an appeal,” he wrote in his column in the Herald Sun.
But the ABC defended its journalists, who include Louise Milligan and Sarah Ferguson who have both done significant investigations into the cardinal, on 7.30, Four Corners and in the documentary series Revelation.
The original news report that revealed Pell was under investigation by Victoria police was written by Lucie Morris-Marr for News Corp’s the Herald Sun.
“The ABC has – and will continue to – report accurately and without fear or favour on stories that are in the public interest, including this one,” an ABC spokesman said. “We stand by our reporters and our stories.”
Greg Craven, the president and vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, who wrote a character reference for Pell, claimed ABC journalists and “a large group of the ABC” did “its very best to be part of the cheer squad that made [the conviction] happen”.
“What it shows is if you are hated enough and if you’ve got enough of the media against you and enough of the state authorities against you, it becomes very hard to get a fair trial,” Craven said after the verdict of the high court.
Bolt was joined by fellow News Corp columnists Janet Albrechtesen and Miranda Devine in targeting the ABC’s reporting.
The Daily Telegraph blogger Tim Blair said “great man walks free”.
Devine, who has been consistent in her support of Pell, said justice had been done at last.
“A good priest, falsely accused and railroaded through a politically motivated investigation and an unfair trial, can walk free, in Holy Week,” Devine said.
“The media lynch mob and the entire Victorian legal system stand condemned. The unanimous decision of the high court is a conclusive repudiation of everyone involved in the false imprisonment of Cardinal George Pell, every politician, every cop, every lawyer, every journalist, every coward who naively trusted the system and vilified as ‘paedophile protectors’ those who maintained Cardinal Pell’s innocence.”
Albrechtsen attacked the ABC reporting of the verdict, claiming it had failed to mention it was a “7-0” decision, but the report did state it was unanimous.
Craven also criticised the ABC’s reporting, claiming it was wrong to refer to the redacted parts of the royal commission report on the day he was released.
“The question I have for you,” Craven said on the ABC News channel. “How much guilt does the ABC feel making sure this victim has gone through years of hell only to be hurled down when the case should never have been brought?”
The Herald Sun columnist and Sky News presenter Rita Panahi said the media condemned Pell’s friends as “pedophile supporters”.
Bolt said the jailing of Pell was “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in this country”.
“The quashing of Pell’s conviction for inherently implausible crimes does not make things better.
“Shame on everyone who participated in this witch hunt and punished those few who tried to speak for justice.
“Shame on the politicians today who still tweet as if Pell is actually guilty.
“But, more importantly, this High Court decision shames the Victoria Police who trawled for complaints against Pell and asked too few questions, the Victorian Court of Appeal which dismissed 2-1 Pell’s initial appeal, and the ABC which with one voice persecuted him for years with false claims and never once had a presenter express doubt about this crusade to destroy him.”