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Crikey has urged billionaire media mogul Lachlan Murdoch to sue for defamation

This article by Zoe Samios is from the 23 August 2022 issue of The Age Digital Edition.

News website Crikey has urged billionaire media mogul Lachlan Murdoch to sue for defamation over an article it published that named his family as ‘‘ unindicted co-conspirators’ ’ in the January 6, 2021, riots at the US Capitol. 

Crikey has also published months of legal correspondence between it and Murdoch’s lawyers over the article, and will run an ‘‘ open letter’ ’ in The New York Times outlining its desire to defend the matter in court. 

‘‘ We want to defend those allegations in court,’’ the open letter, signed by Private Media chairman Eric Beecher and Crikey editor-in-chief Peter Fray, said. ‘‘ You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation. We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom.’’ 

The Age revealed last week that Murdoch had threatened Crikey with legal action over an article that his lawyers say implied he and his media mogul father, Rupert Murdoch, were responsible for the riots at the US Capitol in January last year. The article, written by political journalist Bernard Keane and published in June, made comparisons between the Murdoch family and former president Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal. 

The Age does not endorse Crikey’s claims or suggest that they could be defended in court. 

The article was taken down from the website after the first legal letter was received, but was republished early last week. Murdoch is demanding an apology for the claims and has issued a concerns notice, on the basis the claims are defamatory. A spokesperson for Murdoch was unavailable before publication. 

Will Hayward, chief executive of Private Media, said he believed it was fair comment to say that the Murdoch-owned US channel Fox News and the people who run it played some role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which attempted to prevent the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. 

‘‘ We think it is shameful that someone would try and use the weight of their considerable resources to shut down fair opinion [in] Australia. We didn’t start the fight , but we’re willing to take it to court,’’ he said. 

The online website, which has apologised to Murdoch twice in the past three years, published the correspondence between Murdoch’s lawyer John Churchill and its two law firms . 

A letter sent in late July by Churchill says the Crikey article caused aggravated harm to his client . ‘‘ The notion that a mass media publication accusing a public figure of criminal conduct has not caused, and is not likely to cause, serious harm is spurious,’’ the letter said. ‘‘ It is offensive to my client and aggravates his hurt that you falsely suggest that the allegations made by your clients in the article, Crikey Facebook post and Crikey tweet have been published elsewhere . That is plainly not true.’’ Crikey switched law firms to Marque Lawyers and offered to release a statement about the article and pay legal costs. 

Murdoch’s lawyer rejected this on the basis the statement repeated the alleged defamatory claims. ‘‘ A genuine offer to resolve my client’s complaint would not include the republication of the defamatory material as part of a statement published with his consent ,’’ Churchill wrote. ‘‘ If your clients are not willing to retract and apologise for the content of the article , then it would appear, regrettably , that the matter cannot be resolved.’’ 

A letter sent on August 2 by Michael Bradley from Marque Lawyers, on behalf of Crikey, said the article was published ‘‘ as a legitimate exercise in press freedom and freedom of speech’’ . 

‘‘ You chose to come up with the most extreme set of wildly exaggerated imputations imaginable, none of which were conveyed by the article,’’ Bradley said. ‘‘ Having alleged such extreme imputations, you now demand that our client publishes a retraction and apology with no explanation of what it is apologising for. That is unreasonable .’’ 

A further exchange from Churchill said Murdoch was not seeking to dictate stories and complained only when ‘‘ the falsities are egregious’’ . 

‘‘ . . . His requests have been more than fair given your clients have accused him of crimes in a ‘free to read’ article that was heavily promoted on social media using his name in the caption,’’ he said, adding that all Murdoch wanted as a ‘‘ genuine apology’’ . 

Hayward said the publisher did not see any alternative to going to court. ‘‘ Crikey publish an apology for suggesting that Murdoch and Fox News played a role in January 6?’’ It’s absurd,’’ he said. 

Allegations of involvement in the January 6 riots are a sore point for the Murdoch family. While high-profile commentators on Fox News have been blamed for encouraging Trump supporters, media outlets in the US including The New York Times have published articles about Lachlan Murdoch’s snubs of former president Donald Trump and reports published in recent months say he is scathing of the January attack. 

In July, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal (both owned by the Murdoch family) published editorials criticising Trump’s actions concerning the January 6 riot. Rupert Murdoch, who is not an Australian citizen, is widely known not to sue for defamation . However, Lachlan Murdoch is more litigious. 

Crikey deleted an article by its founder, Stephen Mayne, in April last year, which made claims about Murdoch’s tenure as a board member of Channel Ten. It was also forced to apologise in September 2020 for likening Murdoch to an organised crime figure . 

‘‘ If it goes to court, it will be a considerable fight where Lachlan Murdoch’s billions will be put against the fairly small resources available to Crikey,’’ Hayward said. ‘‘ Nonetheless, we intend to see it all the way through to court.’’ 

Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corp and a non-executive chairman of News Corporation, is facing two lawsuits in the US from voting machine companies seeking billions of dollars in damages over claims Fox News’ lies about the election destroyed their businesses. 

News website Crikey has urged billionaire media mogul Lachlan Murdoch to sue for defamation over an article it published that named his family as ‘‘ unindicted co-conspirators’ ’ in the January 6, 2021, riots at the US Capitol. 

Crikey has also published months of legal correspondence between it and Murdoch’s lawyers over the article, and will run an ‘‘ open letter’ ’ in The New York Times outlining its desire to defend the matter in court. 

‘‘ We want to defend those allegations in court,’’ the open letter, signed by Private Media chairman Eric Beecher and Crikey editor-in-chief Peter Fray, said. ‘‘ You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation. We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom.’’ 

The Age revealed last week that Murdoch had threatened Crikey with legal action over an article that his lawyers say implied he and his media mogul father, Rupert Murdoch, were responsible for the riots at the US Capitol in January last year. The article, written by political journalist Bernard Keane and published in June, made comparisons between the Murdoch family and former president Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal. 

The Age does not endorse Crikey’s claims or suggest that they could be defended in court. 

The article was taken down from the website after the first legal letter was received, but was republished early last week. Murdoch is demanding an apology for the claims and has issued a concerns notice, on the basis the claims are defamatory. A spokesperson for Murdoch was unavailable before publication. 

Will Hayward, chief executive of Private Media, said he believed it was fair comment to say that the Murdoch-owned US channel Fox News and the people who run it played some role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which attempted to prevent the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. 

‘‘ We think it is shameful that someone would try and use the weight of their considerable resources to shut down fair opinion [in] Australia. We didn’t start the fight , but we’re willing to take it to court,’’ he said. 

The online website, which has apologised to Murdoch twice in the past three years, published the correspondence between Murdoch’s lawyer John Churchill and its two law firms . 

A letter sent in late July by Churchill says the Crikey article caused aggravated harm to his client . ‘‘ The notion that a mass media publication accusing a public figure of criminal conduct has not caused, and is not likely to cause, serious harm is spurious,’’ the letter said. ‘‘ It is offensive to my client and aggravates his hurt that you falsely suggest that the allegations made by your clients in the article, Crikey Facebook post and Crikey tweet have been published elsewhere . That is plainly not true.’’ Crikey switched law firms to Marque Lawyers and offered to release a statement about the article and pay legal costs. 

Murdoch’s lawyer rejected this on the basis the statement repeated the alleged defamatory claims. ‘‘ A genuine offer to resolve my client’s complaint would not include the republication of the defamatory material as part of a statement published with his consent ,’’ Churchill wrote. ‘‘ If your clients are not willing to retract and apologise for the content of the article , then it would appear, regrettably , that the matter cannot be resolved.’’ 

A letter sent on August 2 by Michael Bradley from Marque Lawyers, on behalf of Crikey, said the article was published ‘‘ as a legitimate exercise in press freedom and freedom of speech’’ . 

‘‘ You chose to come up with the most extreme set of wildly exaggerated imputations imaginable, none of which were conveyed by the article,’’ Bradley said. ‘‘ Having alleged such extreme imputations, you now demand that our client publishes a retraction and apology with no explanation of what it is apologising for. That is unreasonable .’’ 

A further exchange from Churchill said Murdoch was not seeking to dictate stories and complained only when ‘‘ the falsities are egregious’’ . 

‘‘ . . . His requests have been more than fair given your clients have accused him of crimes in a ‘free to read’ article that was heavily promoted on social media using his name in the caption,’’ he said, adding that all Murdoch wanted as a ‘‘ genuine apology’’ . 

Hayward said the publisher did not see any alternative to going to court. ‘‘ Crikey publish an apology for suggesting that Murdoch and Fox News played a role in January 6?’’ It’s absurd,’’ he said. 

Allegations of involvement in the January 6 riots are a sore point for the Murdoch family. While high-profile commentators on Fox News have been blamed for encouraging Trump supporters, media outlets in the US including The New York Times have published articles about Lachlan Murdoch’s snubs of former president Donald Trump and reports published in recent months say he is scathing of the January attack. 

In July, the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal (both owned by the Murdoch family) published editorials criticising Trump’s actions concerning the January 6 riot. Rupert Murdoch, who is not an Australian citizen, is widely known not to sue for defamation . However, Lachlan Murdoch is more litigious. 

Crikey deleted an article by its founder, Stephen Mayne, in April last year, which made claims about Murdoch’s tenure as a board member of Channel Ten. It was also forced to apologise in September 2020 for likening Murdoch to an organised crime figure . 

‘‘ If it goes to court, it will be a considerable fight where Lachlan Murdoch’s billions will be put against the fairly small resources available to Crikey,’’ Hayward said. ‘‘ Nonetheless, we intend to see it all the way through to court.’’ 

Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corp and a non-executive chairman of News Corporation, is facing two lawsuits in the US from voting machine companies seeking billions of dollars in damages over claims Fox News’ lies about the election destroyed their businesses. 

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