Murdoch setback in Crikey defamation case

A bid by media mogul Lachlan Murdoch to strike out Australian news publication Crikey’s public interest defence in a looming defamation trial has failed in the Federal Court.

Lachlan Murdoch (left) with father Rupert and brother James. Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

Lachlan Murdoch (left) with father Rupert and brother James. Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

On Friday, Justice Michael Wigney found there was no appropriate reason to strike out Crikey’s public interest defence. He rejected Murdoch’s claims that sections of the defence were a “furphy” and were evasive, ambiguous or prejudicial.

“Nor am I persuaded that those paragraphs together fail to disclose a reasonable defence,” the judge said.

It was “at the very least arguable” that the facts claimed by the publication surrounding the January 6 riots showed the article itself was written in the public interest, he said.

“I’m not persuaded that the pleaded facts are demonstrably irrelevant.”

Justice Wigney also shot down Crikey’s bid to strike out a portion of the media mogul’s reply claiming the publisher had acted in malice.

If Murdoch was able to prove the predominant purpose of the article was harm, this would defeat the defence of public interest, the judge noted.

The co-chair of News Corp and chief executive of Fox Corporation is suing Crikey over a June 29 opinion piece by political editor Bernard Keane, that was taken down and then posted back online on August 15.

It related to US House of Representative hearings into former president Donald Trump and the Capitol riots in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

Murdoch alleges it contained defamatory claims including that he entered an illegal criminal conspiracy with Trump to overturn the US 2020 presidential election and incite a mob with murderous intent to march on the Capitol.

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The article was titled “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator”.

In the lawsuit, Murdoch is suing Crikey’s publisher Private Media, Keane and editor-in-chief Peter Fray.

A nine-day trial is due to start on March 27.

-with AAP

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