The decision to end the lawsuit against the website Crikey came after Fox Corporation settled a similar defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems for more than $787 million on Tuesday.
In a statement on Thursday, a lawyer representing Murdoch said Crikey recently moved to add thousands of records connected to the Dominion voting lawsuit, which centered around claims of election fraud that were voiced by some Fox News personalities and their guests immediately after the 2020 presidential election.
Crikey was sued by Murdoch following the publication of a column called “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor and Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator,” which claimed Fox News opened the door for former U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters to promote election-related conspiracy theories.
“[Fox News] continues — even in the face of mountains of evidence of Trump’s treachery and crimes — to peddle the lie of the stolen election and play down the insurrection Trump created,” Crikey columnist Bernard Keane wrote in the story, which was published last June.
Murdoch threatened to sue under Australian defamation law, arguing the column defamed him and his father, Fox co-founder and chairman Rupert Murdoch. He ultimately moved forward with the lawsuit after Crikey refused to retract the piece. Last October, a judge overseeing the case declined Crikey’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, while also allowing Crikey’s parent company Private Media to introduce clips from various Fox News broadcasts in its defense.
The case was dismissed at Murdoch’s request this week after Crikey sought to introduce text messages, emails and other records between Fox News talent, employees and guests that were unearthed as part of the Dominion Voting lawsuit. Some of the records revealed Fox News talent and producers believed election fraud claims made by Trump and others were wrong, but continued booking guests who spoke to those claims anyway, in an apparent attempt to appease the channel’s conservative viewer base.
On Thursday, Murdoch’s attorney said the Fox CEO “remains confident that the court would ultimately find in his favor. However, he does not wish to further enable Crikey’s use of the [Australian] court to litigate a case from another jurisdiction that has already been settled and facilitate a marketing campaign designed to attract subscribers and boost their profits.”
While media outlets in the United States enjoy broad free speech protections under the law, the same isn’t true in Australia, where news outlets operate under tougher regulations. In the United States, media outlets are permitted to criticize public figures in a variety of ways that are not available to newsrooms in Australia, where the law doesn’t differentiate between a public figure and a private citizen.
That distinction was one crucial element in Murdoch’s now-ended lawsuit against Crikey, in a country where celebrities, politicians and other public figures are known to bring defamation lawsuits against news outlets that publish articles and columns that are overly critical.
Most defamation cases brought in Australia ultimately conclude with a settlement, making the outcome of the lawsuit against Crikey and Private Media unusual. The dismissal of the lawsuit means Crikey won’t have to retract anything related to the column, nor will it suffer any legal consequences for publishing it.
“We stand by our position that Lachlan Murdoch was culpable in promoting the lie of the 2020 election result because he, and his father, had the power to stop the lies,” Will Hayward, the CEO of Private Media, said in a joint statement with the company’s chairman, Eric Beecher. The duo added that the outcome of the lawsuit was a “substantial victory for legitimate public interest journalism.”