Lawyers for Lachlan Murdoch have told a Sydney judge that the company that owns Crikey has “directed ridicule and hatred” at him and “publicly claimed martyrdom” as a date is set for his defamation trial.
- Lachlan Murdoch, son of News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, launched legal action against Crikey in August
- Crikey’s owner Private Media defends the claims as opinion
- The case will go to court next month
Fox Corporation’s CEO is suing Private Media in federal court over an analysis article, published in June, about hearings on the deadly January 2021 riot at the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters.
He claims he was defamed after the article referred to Murdoch and Fox News commentators as “unindicted co-conspirators”.
When the case came before Judge Michael Wigney for the first time, barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC, for Mr. Murdoch, a problem with her opponents’ “behavior” over the past month.
She said the CEO of Private Media had this week published a video purporting to explain their defence.
“It appears that how the respondents frame the case and portray what is really the issue is very different from what the pleaded issues are,” she said.
“It has had a number of effects, including undoubtedly the increase in subscriptions and money paid to a GoFundMe account that has been set up, but also directed ridicule and hatred towards my client.”
Ms Chrysanthou said billboards had appeared in Melbourne which were paid for by respondents.
“People who have been publicly claiming martyrdom for the last four weeks because they are being sued by a wealthy man, mocking my client on public billboards.”
Justice Wigney set a nine-day hearing to begin on March 27, but also said he will at some point ask the parties to attend mediation before a registrar.
“Cool, commercial minds can prevail,” he said.
“I admire your honor’s optimism,” replied Mrs. Chrysantho.
In defense documents, Private Media denies the article was defamatory of Mr Murdoch and raises three defences, including the new public interest defence, introduced as part of reforms from last July.
“The article addressed Mr. Trump’s conduct in connection with the November 2020 election, the state of American democracy, the polarization in American politics confirmed by the events of January 6, and the media environment in which those events occurred, all of which were issues of public interest,” the documents state.
They also mark defenses against implied constitutional freedom to communicate about political matters and failure to accept a reasonable offer of change.
The defense documents say the phrase “unindicted co-conspirator” was included as a reference to President Nixon, who was described by a grand jury in the same terms in the conspiracy to cover up the Watergate break-in.
Crikey editor-in-chief Peter Fray and political editor Bernard Keane believed the references to Mr Murdoch were a statement of Keane’s opinion, “based on his knowledge of the extensive reporting on Fox News’ involvement in the events leading up to the 6 Murdochs’ role as the guiding heads of Fox’s editorial strategy and programming”.
They also believed the references to the Murdochs were “obviously hyperbolic, taking creative license to take the infamous identification of Nixon as the ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in Watergate and drawing a parallel to the January 6 riots,” the documents say.
Private Media argues that no one would read the words literally as suggesting that the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy or treason.
The case returns to court on October 10.