Mamamia faces contempt of court probe over Robert Hughes case reporting

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 3.27.49 PMWomen’s lifestyle website Mamamia may face contempt of court proceedings for publishing a potentially prejudicial article during the trial of former Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes.

On March 7, Hughes’s lawyer Greg Walsh told the presiding judge Justice Peter Zahra he was deeply “concerned” about the contents of a “blog… Mamamia.”

It is understood the article in question, authored by Mamamia’s celebrity editor Kate Leaver and since removed from the site, made several allegedly prejudicial statements about Hughes’ guilt.

The former TV star was yesterday convicted of nine child sex offences involving five victims during the 1980s and 1990s and was today found guilty of one of two counts of indecent dealing. Whilst the article in question appeared on Mamamia on March 6 the matter was heard in the absence of the jury, with reporting on the contempt matter banned until after the jury was discharged today.

The court heard among the allegedly prejudicial remarks was a section questioning why, after Cate Blanchett’s win at the Oscars, she had thanked her agent Robyn Gardiner, the wife of Hughes, but not “spared a thought” for “his (Hughes’) victims”.

Gardiner was also referred to in the article as having stood by while her husband “moonlighted as a sexual predator” in the 1980s and that “Hughes has not been convicted… yet.”

Justice Zahra was critical of Mamamia for the breach. According to the transcript of the hearing, he stated: “This article is deeply concerning… This one appears to be particularly egregious and I’m at this stage concerned that in fact it may be a contempt of the Court. That is, that the clear indication in this article is that the actress Cate Blanchett used the opportunity in her acceptance speech of an Academy Award to pervert the course of justice either on her own or in conjunction with the proposed witness in this trial.”

The court was also told that the risk of prejudicing the trial was increased because the headline and standfirst gave no indication Hughes would be the subject of the article. Jurors are instructed not to follow media coverage of their trial, but are allowed to follow news in general.

On March 7 Justice Zahra said he would consider whether the matter should be referred to the NSW Attorney General’s office for consideration of contempt charges.

Walsh did not apply for the jury to be discharged.

When the court returned on March 10, Judge Zahra said he considered a referral appropriate. “I propose to refer the matter to the Attorney General for considerations to whether the author should be prosecuted for sub judice contempt,” said Justice Zahra.

Mamamia publisher Mia Freedman and editor-in-chief Jamila Rizvi both declined to comment on the matter. Asked whether disciplinary action had been taken, Freedman said: “No.”

Sanctions for contempt of court can include both a prison sentence or fine.

Broadcaster Derryn Hinch was released from prison last month after refusing to pay a $100,000 fine imposed over contempt of court in online reporting in relation to the Jill Meagher murder.

Nic Christensen 


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