Aug 22, 2022 - Economy

Lachlan Murdoch sues Australian site for defamation

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Lachlan Murdoch on Tuesday sued Australian news site Crikey over a June article alleging Murdoch and Fox News are partially responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, per the Sydney Morning Herald.

Zoom in: The line Murdoch's lawyers take most issue with reads, "The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis."

Why it matters: Murdoch's complaint is ironic since Fox News is vigorously defending itself in the U.S. from defamation lawsuits brought by voting technology companies Dominion and Smartmatic.

  • Those suits charge Fox with repeating lies about election-machine tampering in 2020 — the same lies that inspired the Capitol rioters.

The big picture: Crikey is an independent news site run by a staff of around 20. The Murdochs own the majority of newspapers in Australia via News Corp, along with many other media properties around the world.

  • Murdoch has launched defamation suits a small handful of times against Crikey and other news sites before. They have usually ended with out of court settlements.

Catch up quick: Crikey published the article by Bernard Keane on June 29, following Congress' Jan. 6 committee hearings in June.

  • The site removed the article on June 30, along with social media posts that linked to the article, following defamation threats from Murdoch's lawyer, Crikey said in an editor's note.
  • It reposted the story with an editor's note on Aug. 16.

Details: On Monday, Crikey published several letters from Murdoch's personal attorneys accusing the site of defamation.

  • Crikey also published a full-page ad in the New York Times in the form of an open letter to Murdoch, with a QR code to its site with the letters posted, "so people can judge your allegations for themselves," the ad read.

What they're saying: Murdoch's lawyer argues the text implies Murdoch was directly involved in the Jan. 6 events.

  • Crikey's lawyers say that while the news site does believe that Murdoch bears some responsibility for the events of Jan. 6 "because of the actions of Fox News, the network he leads," they don't believe "he was actively involved in the events," as Murdoch's lawyers suggest.
  • Crikey's lawyers also say a defamation case would need to prove "that the publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm" to Murdoch's reputation, and they don't believe Murdoch has demonstrated that.
  • Murdoch's lawyers have demanded that Crikey remove the article and also apologize to Murdoch.

In response to the lawsuit, Crikey's parent company Private Media said, "Crikey stands by its story and we look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch."

  • "We are determined to fight for the integrity and importance of diverse independent media in Australian democracy. "

Be smart: It's much harder to win a defamation case in the U.S. than in Australia. That's one reason Fox can wave off defamation suits in the U.S. as "assaults on the First Amendment" while pressing them against news companies in Australia.

  • Australian law offers no protection for publishers based on the intent of their coverage, and as a result, defamation threats and suits are more common.

What to watch: Dominion Voting System's $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News is moving closer to trial, the New York Times reports.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include that Murdoch filed defamation proceedings Tuesday and Crikey's response to the lawsuit.

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