Lachlan Murdoch abandons legal action against Crikey

Lachlan Murdoch drops Australian defamation case

Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch has dropped his defamation case against the Australian publisher of news outlet Crikey and several of its editors and executives.

Friday’s move came Fox News and Dominion Voting reached a last-minute settlement in a billion-dollar defamation case in a US court on Wednesday, in the final minutes before a trial was due to begin.

Mr Murdoch launched legal action against Crikey publisher Private Media in the Federal Court in August, claiming it defamed him in referring to his family as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the US Capitol riots.

The action related to a June 29 opinion piece that was taken down and then posted back online on August 15.

Crikey political editor Bernard Keane, former editor-in-chief Peter Fray, chairman Eric Beecher and CEO Will Hayward were also named in the lawsuit.

Mr Murdoch alleged the article – titled “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator” – conveyed a meaning that he illegally conspired with former US president Donald Trump to “incite a mob with murderous intent to march on the Capitol” in Washington DC on January 6.

In its defence, Crikey said Mr Murdoch was “morally and ethically culpable” for the attack on the US Capitol.

On Friday, Mr Murdoch’s lawyers filed a notice to discontinue the case. In a statement, lawyer John Churchill said Mr Murdoch remained confident the court would “ultimately find in his favour”, but no longer wished to allow Crikey to use the case to “facilitate a marketing campaign” to boost subscribers.

Mr Churchill said the Dominion settlement was a contributing factor in Mr Murdoch’s decision.

“In their latest attempt to change their defence strategy, Crikey has tried to introduce thousands of pages of documents from a defamation case in another jurisdiction, which has now settled,” he said.

“In that case, in the US state of Delaware, the trial judge ruled the events of January 6, 2021, in the US Capitol, were not relevant.

“Further, the plaintiff Dominion Voting Systems made clear it would not argue that Fox News caused the events of January 6, and at no point did it ever argue that Mr Murdoch was personally responsible for the events of January 6.

“Yet this is what Crikey’s article alleged and what Crikey is attempting to argue in Australia.”

On Wednesday, lawyers for Dominion Voting stood on the steps of the Delaware court to confirm Fox had agreed to pay a settlement of $US787.5 million ($1.17 billion) for airing false claims that Dominion’s ballot-counting machines were used to manipulate the 2020 US election in favour of Joe Biden over Mr Trump.

Some of Fox’s best-known figures – including Lachlan’s father and the company’s chairman Rupert Murdoch, chief executive Suzanne Scott and on-air hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirrowould – were all expected to be compelled to testify in the trial.

Mr Beecher and Mr Hayward released a joint statement on Friday, welcoming the move.

“We stand by what we published last June, and everything we laid out in our defence to the court. The imputations drawn by Murdoch from that article were ridiculous,” they said.

“The fact is, Murdoch sued us, and then dropped his case.”

They described the decision as “a victory for free speech”.

“We are proud of our stand. We are proud to have exposed the hypocrisy and abuse of power of a media billionaire,” the statement said.

“This is a victory for free speech. We won.”

Meanwhile, in the US, Fox still faces another defamation lawsuit brought by another US voting technology company, Smartmatic. It is seeking $US2.7 billion ($4.01 billion) in damages in a New York state court.

A trial is unlikely before the middle of next year.

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