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Lachlan Murdoch and Crikey fail in early test of defamation dispute. Here’s why

Bids by media mogul Lachlan Murdoch and Australian news publication Crikey to strip down each others’ pleadings have failed amid a bitter defamation dispute.
In a preliminary hearing on Friday, Justice Michael Wigney found there was no appropriate reason to strike out Crikey’s public interest defence.

He rejected Mr Murdoch’s claims 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 in the Federal Court.
It was “at the very least arguable” that the facts claimed by the publication surrounding the 6 January Capitol riots in the US 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 Mr Murdoch’s reply claiming the publisher had acted in malice.

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

What is the dispute about?

Mr Murdoch, the co-chair of News Corp and chief executive of Fox Corporation, is suing Crikey over a 29 June opinion piece by political editor Bernard Keane, that was taken down and then posted back online on 15 August.
It related to US House of Representative hearings into former president Donald Trump and the Capitol riots in Washington DC on 6 January 2021.
Mr Murdoch alleges it contained defamatory claims, including that he entered an illegal criminal conspiracy with Mr Trump to overturn the US 2020 presidential election and incite a mob with murderous intent to march on the Capitol.
The article was titled “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator”.
In the lawsuit, Mr Murdoch is suing Crikey’s publisher Private Media, Mr Keane and editor-in-chief Peter Fray.

The full nine-day trial is due to start on 27 March 2023.

File source

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