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Murdoch, Crikey fail in defamation stoush

A judge has ruled out changing defamation pleadings by Lachlan Murdoch (left) and Crikey.

A judge has ruled out changing defamation pleadings by Lachlan Murdoch (left) and Crikey. Photo: AAP

Bids by media mogul Lachlan Murdoch and Australian news publication Crikey to strip down each others’ pleadings have failed amid a bitter defamation dispute.

On Friday, Justice Michael Wigney found there was no appropriate reason to strike out Crikey’s public interest defence. He rejected Mr Murdoch’s claims sections of the defence were a “furphy” and were evasive, ambiguous or prejudicial.

“Nor am I persuaded that those paragraphs together fail to disclose a reasonable defence,” the judge said in the Federal Court.

It was “at the very least arguable” that the facts claimed by the publication surrounding the January 6 riots in the US showed the article was written in the public interest, he said.

“I’m not persuaded that the pleaded facts are demonstrably irrelevant.”

Mr Murdoch also failed to remove other parts of the defence regarding mitigation, including claims he had a bad reputation as head of Fox News, an organisation that engaged in “biased reporting” and “systematic unethical practices”.

Crikey relies on statements made by US Fox commentators such as Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity to back up these allegations.

“Our system has never been more disorganised and it’s never been more vulnerable to manipulation,” Carlson said in November 2020.

Days before January 6, Pirro publicly railed against the “left’s hypocrisy” and questioned whether Joe Biden was the legitimate president of the United States.

On Friday, Justice Wigney also shot down Crikey’s bid to strike out a portion of the media mogul’s reply claiming the publisher had acted in malice.

If Mr Murdoch was able to prove the predominant purpose of the article was harm, this would defeat the defence of public interest, the judge noted.

The co-chair of News Corp and chief executive of Fox Corporation is suing Crikey over a June 29 opinion piece by political editor Bernard Keane, that was taken down and then posted back online on August 15.

It related to US House of Representative hearings into former president Donald Trump and the Capitol riots in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

Mr Murdoch alleges it contained defamatory claims including that he entered an illegal criminal conspiracy with Mr Trump to overturn the US 2020 presidential election and incite a mob with murderous intent to march on the Capitol.

The article was titled Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator.

In the lawsuit, Mr Murdoch is suing Crikey’s publisher Private Media, Keane and editor-in-chief Peter Fray.

A nine-day trial is due to start on March 27.

– AAP

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