Lachlan Murdoch Sues Australian News Site For Defamation Over January 6th Column

Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch filed suit against Australian news site Crikey on Tuesday over an opinion column that connected the Murdochs to the siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

The statement of claim was filed in Federal Court of Australia.

After receiving legal threats from Murdoch’s attorney, Crikey challenged him to file the suit and test of Australia’s “too restrictive” defamation laws. Crikey ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on Monday, as Eric Beercher, the chairman of its parent company, Private Media, said that  it was “looking forward to meeting Lachlan Murdoch in court, as he has foreshadowed, to test the defamation laws he and his editors constantly complain about.”

At issue is a June 29 analysis piece on the January 6th Committee hearings with the headline, “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unidentified co-conspirator.”

The author, politics editor Bernard Keane, wrote in the final paragraph, “If Trump ends up in the dock for a variety of crimes committed as president, as he should be, not all his co-conspirators will be there with him. Nixon was famously the “unindicted co-conspirator” in Watergate. The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis.”

In the first letter sent to Crikey, Murdoch attorney John Churchill wrote that the article was defamatory. He contended that it “misleadingly suggests” that Murdoch was referred to in the evidence before the January 6th Committee “and was inculpated in some way as part of those hearings.” Among other things, Churchill claimed that the article contained the “defamatory imputations” that Murdoch “conspired with Donald Trump to lead an armed mob on Congress to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”

After the legal threat, Crikey initially removed the article and related social media posts, but it refused to apologize. It republished the article on Monday, as it challenged Murdoch to file suit.

Beecher, however, argued that the Murdoch reference was to Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch’s father, who is chairman of Fox Corp.

“The article is not dissimilar to thousands of stories published in the US media about the complicity of Fox News in the Trump presidency and January 6 riots — many of those stories far more accusatory than ours,” Beecher wrote. “Indeed, Lachlan Murdoch described the role of Fox News after the 2020 presidential election as “the loyal opposition … that’s what our job is now with the Biden administration.”

He also noted that Murdochs had not filed suit in the United States where, as public figures, the threshold for proving defamation is much higher.

“We didn’t start this senseless altercation with Lachlan Murdoch,” Beecher wrote. “We may not be as big, rich, powerful or important as him, but we have one common interest: we’re a news company that believes in publishing, not suppressing, public interest journalism.”

In the United States, two elections systems companies, Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, have sued Fox News and some of its personalities and guests for repeatedly amplifying false claims that they rigged the results of the 2020 presidential elections. Dominion also filed suit against Fox Corp., Fox News’ parent company. A judge in June ruled that the latter case could move forward, arguing that Dominion’s allegations “support a reasonable inference that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch either knew Dominion had not manipulated the election or at least recklessly disregarded the truth when they allegedly caused Fox News to propagate its claims about Dominion.”

Fox News has cited the First Amendment in its defense, arguing that it was engaged in coverage of a topic, the presidential election, in the public interest.

Fox Corp. had no comment.

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