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Murdoch loses Rd. 1 in defamation fight

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Sydney—Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son Friday lost the opening skirmish of his defamation battle with a small Australian website, which published an article accusing the billionaire family of inflaming last year’s US Capitol riots.

Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of Fox Corporation and one of the world’s most influential media figures, is suing Crikey over an article written in June this year.

The article read: “The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis.”

Thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building on 6 January, 2021, spurred on by widely shared conspiracy theories that Joe Biden had stolen the presidential election.

In a preliminary hearing setting the ground rules for an upcoming trial, Murdoch’s lawyers asked the court to throw out large parts of Crikey’s defence.

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Justice Michael Wigney ruled against Murdoch.

“I’m not persuaded it’s appropriate to strike out any aspects of Crikey’s defence,” Wigney told the court.

Crikey will now be allowed to examine the influence of Fox News in America under its “public interest” defence.

“From around 7 November 2020, hosts and guests of Fox News repeatedly cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election,” Crikey has said in legal papers.

“At no time to date have Rupert Murdoch, the Murdoch family… or the applicant—Lachlan Murdoch—publicly repudiated the claims made by hosts and guests of Fox News.”

Fox News, a cable channel with a dedicated base of conservative viewers, holds significant sway over American politics.

Lawyers for Murdoch, 51, have said Crikey was smearing the family to “boost subscriptions” and “engender public sympathy”.

Striking out parts of Crikey’s defence would have harmed the website’s chances of winning the case, which is scheduled to start in March next year.

The case pits Crikey, a pugilistic news site with subscriber numbers in the low tens of thousands, against one of the world’s largest media empires.

Crikey took out a full-page advert in The New York Times in August, challenging Lachlan Murdoch to sue them over the article.

Murdoch filed a defamation suit in the Australian federal court the next day.

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