Lachlan Murdoch has filed proceedings for defamation in Australia’s federal court against the independent news site Crikey over an article that named the Murdoch family as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 6 January Capitol riots.
The co-chairman of News Corp has engaged top silk Sue Chrysanthou SC to represent him in the defamation suit after Crikey’s Australian publisher, Private Media, refused to apologise for an opinion piece by politics editor Bernard Keane.
The lawsuit was filed a day after Crikey bought a full-page ad in the New York Times inviting Murdoch to sue them over the alleged defamation.
The suit from Murdoch, who is also the executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corporation, names Keane as the second respondent.
In dispute is the apparent opinion piece, and associated social media posts, published by Crikey.com.au in June with the headline: “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator” – analysing the insurrection by supporters of the defeated presidential candidate.
In legal letters published by Crikey, lawyers for Murdoch argue the publications contain “scandalous allegations of criminal conduct and conspiracy” and carry a number of “highly defamatory and false imputations about him”.
The piece mentions the Murdoch name twice: in the headline and in the closing paragraphs, and is largely concerned with the evidence of former White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson to the US House select committee on the 6 January attack. Hutchinson did not mention Murdoch in her testimony.
Lawyers for Murdoch told Crikey its article was not “a legitimate exercise of press freedom and freedom of speech” about a matter of “critical public importance”.
They said the article sought to draw Murdoch into the “quagmire of allegations about the former president and impugn him by association”.
Through its lawyers, Crikey responded that the article does not mention Lachlan Murdoch at all and that the threatened defamation action “is bound to fail”. They say that the article does not convey the imputations Murdoch alleges, arguing “any such imputation relies on a thoroughly strained and contorted interpretation of the words of the article”.
In response to the initial complaint, Crikey initially agreed to remove the piece from its website and deleted a related tweet and Facebook post – but after failing to reach agreement has since reinstated the piece live.
In extensive legal correspondence published by the news website, Crikey refused to apologise but offered to not republish the original article, pay Murdoch’s reasonable legal fees and publish an “editorial statement” clarifying its position and arguing the article did not convey the imputations alleged by Murdoch.
The proposed statement, which repeated the full list of defamatory imputations claimed by Murdoch, said: “There is no evidence that Mr Murdoch did any of the things described above. Crikey does not say that [Murdoch] did any of them.”
Crikey’s offer to publish the editorial statement was rejected by lawyers for Murdoch who also said Murdoch “does wish to resolve the matter with Crikey as he has successfully done so in the past … the only issue between the parties is the provision of a genuine apology”.
The editor-in-chief of Crikey, Peter Fray, who is the third respondent in the suit, said in a statement on Tuesday: “Crikey stands by its story and we look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch.”
“We are determined to fight for the integrity and importance of diverse independent media in Australian democracy,” Fray said.
“We welcome the chance to test what an honest, open and public debate actually means for free speech in Australia.”