Sydney, April 21 (AFP/APP):Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch on Friday abruptly dropped a high-profile defamation case against an Australian website that accused his family and firm of fuelling the 2021 US Capitol riots.
Lawyers for the Crikey website said that Murdoch — the eldest son of billionaire conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch — had halted eight months of legal proceedings, days after his company settled a major US libel suit.
Lachlan Murdoch had sued Crikey for coverage that labelled Murdoch’s family and their Fox News commentators as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the January 6 post-US-election riots. The articles referenced Fox News’s decision to amplify unfounded conspiracy theories that the presidential election, won by Joe Biden, was stolen from the then-incumbent Donald Trump.
Murdoch, with the support of a high-powered legal team, had widely been expected to win the case and saddle the small independent publisher with potentially ruinous legal costs. His decision to drop the lawsuit came after Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to US firm Dominion for falsely claiming their election voting machines were rigged. Crikey had sought to introduce evidence from the Dominion case to help its defence, a potentially problematic development for Murdoch.
The Dominion case was settled before trial, and before any of the Murdoch family or Fox hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were forced to testify in open court. But it was still costly and deeply embarrassing for Fox, exposing internal messages that showed the network knew fraud claims by Trump and his surrogates were untrue. That made the case against Crikey a “lost cause” according to Denis Muller, a media defamation law expert at the University of Melbourne.
“They (Crikey) could have used the email that Dominion uncovered to show that they knowingly broadcast false information about the stolen election,” Muller told AFP. “Well, that’s not going to go too well in an Australian court because the court is going to say, ‘Mr Murdoch, you don’t have a reputation to defend’.” Fox News still faces a separate $2.7 billion lawsuit from another electronic voting company — Smartmatic — which claims that the right-wing network broadcast lies that “decimated” its business prospects. Murdoch’s Australian lawyers on Friday insisted there was “no truth” to Crikey’s allegations, but said 92-year-old Rupert’s heir apparent had decided to drop the case anyway. “(Lachlan) Murdoch remains confident that the court would ultimately find in his favour,” lawyer John Churchill said.
“However, he does not wish to further enable Crikey’s use of the court to litigate a case from another jurisdiction that has already been settled and facilitate a marketing campaign designed to attract subscribers.” Crikey, an often pugilistic left-leaning news site, had repeatedly dared Murdoch to sue them over the articles, and launched fundraising and subscription drives off the back of the legal action.
Crikey, and its parent company Private Media, appeared to have been blindsided by the case’s quick end. “We won. Thank you to all of @crikey_news team, our wider staff, our legal team at @marquelawyers, all our subs and everyone who contributed to the campaign,” Private Media CEO Will Hayward tweeted. His lawyers said Crikey would seek to recoup legal costs. The Murdoch family remains a major media player in Rupert’s native Australia, despite his decades-old focus on markets in the United States and Britain.