Lachlan Murdoch adds Private Media chairman and CEO to Crikey lawsuit | Lachlan Murdoch
Lachlan Murdoch has been granted leave to expand his defamation case against Crikey, with the Federal Court agreeing to add Private Media chairman Eric Beecher and its chief executive Will Hayward as respondents.
The Fox Corporation chief executive launched defamation proceedings against the independent news site last year over an article published in June that named the Murdoch family as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the US Capitol attack. Following a concern notice from Murdoch, Crikey removed the article, but it was reinstated on 15 August.
In Murdoch’s original claim, Private Media, Crikey’s political editor, Bernard Keane, and editor-in-chief, Peter Fray, were the only respondents and the reposted article was not considered a separate article.
But the court ruled on Monday that the News Corp executive chairman could amend his statement of claim and characterize the original Crikey article and the reposted article as separate publications and sue over both.
Judge Michael Wigney ruled in Murdoch’s favour, although he warned it would significantly delay the trial – from March to October – extending it from nine days to three weeks.
Murdoch’s lawyers argued that from around July last year Private Media, Fray, Beecher and Hayward “conceived a scheme to improperly use Murdoch’s complaint about the article to generate subscriptions to Crikey and therefore generate revenue for Private Media under the guise of defending public interest journalism. “.
Barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said during the process of discovery, in which parties in civil cases hand over relevant documents, Private Media revealed it had a public relations strategy designed to maximize publicity about the so-called “David and Goliath” battle between Crikey and Murdoch.
Crikey used the dispute as a subscription driver, collecting a $500,000 “windfall” for 5,000 new subscriptions in August after publishing the legal letters from Murdoch, Chrysanthou said.
Private Media’s campaign included reposting the complained-of article, stories about the article and a social media and newspaper advertising campaign, including an open letter in the New York Times, designed to humiliate Murdoch, Chrysanthou said .
Private Media lawyer Michael Hodge KC argued Murdoch should not be allowed to start a new action five months after defamation proceedings began and this would add significant time and cost to the trial.
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He refuted the suggestion that advice from a public relations firm, Populares, Crikey and Private Media was “in some way guiding” their actions as they waited to see if Murdoch would sue.
In its defence, Private Media said the article did not suggest the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy.
“No one would read the words literally as suggesting that the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy or treason under US law,” the defense said.
Murdoch argued that he “has been seriously injured in his character, his personal reputation and his professional reputation as a business person and company director, and has suffered and will continue to suffer considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment”.
“We’ve been open all along about the principles we stand for,” Hayward said. “We feel as strongly about those principles and about free speech as we did when it started. That’s what we do at Crikey, and we look forward to defending our actions in court.”