Fox News boss Lachlan Murdoch has sued the Australian media outlet Crikey, accusing the independent news site of defaming him in an opinion piece about the January 6 riots at the United States Capitol.
The lawsuit was filed late on Tuesday in Australian federal court, a day after Crikey refused to apologise for the opinion article and challenged Murdoch to sue it.
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Crikey even took out an advertisement in the New York Times on Monday, publishing an open letter that welcomed the opportunity to “test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom”.
Murdoch is chief executive of media behemoth Fox Corporation and co-chairman of News Corp.
He is the eldest son of billionaire media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of scores of outlets including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
Crikey’s article, written by its politics editor Bernard Keane and published in June, did not name the younger Murdoch directly. Headlined “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator”, the article said in its final paragraph that the “Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators” contributed to the assault on the US Capitol.
Murdoch’s lawyers had previously claimed in letters to Crikey that their client was defamed 22 times in the article and its social media posts.
While Crikey initially deleted the article on the day it was published as a “goodwill gesture” after Murdoch’s lawyers made contact, the piece was reinstated amid the legal wrangling.
Crikey editor Peter Fray and chairman Eric Beecher said on Wednesday that the site “stands by its story”.
“We look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch,” they said.
“We believe that coverage of the events of January 6 at the US Capitol, and the role of Fox News in those events, is absolutely legitimate.”
The story has made waves in Australia, where the Murdoch family remains a major player in local media despite its global expansion.
Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull even weighed into the saga on Wednesday, saying he was “very surprised” by Murdoch’s decision.
“I think it’s hypocritical,” he told radio show RN Breakfast, adding that the Murdochs were “always bleating about freedom of speech, and how the defamation laws are too harsh”.
Australia’s tough libel laws offer few protections to the media and have earned the country the nickname “the defamation capital of the world”.
Meanwhile, in the US, Fox News is fighting its own defamation lawsuits from two US election technology companies over its coverage of the country’s presidential election in 2020.
Dominion Voting System Inc is suing Fox News for $1.6bn for defamation, accusing the media outlet of falsely claiming the voting machine company rigged the election against former President Donald Trump.
Smartmatic is also pursuing a $2.7bn defamation lawsuit against Fox News in a similar case.