Fox Corp chief executive Lachlan Murdoch has dropped his defamation lawsuit against Australian news website Crikey.
The son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch cited the settlement of a separate US case in which Fox News agreed to pay almost 800 million US dollars (£643.6 million) over its lies involving the 2020 US presidential election.
Lachlan Murdoch filed a statement of claim last August, a day after executives at Crikey’s publisher put their names to an ad in The New York Times inviting him to sue to test the press freedom issue in court.
Murdoch’s lawsuit targeted the publisher, Private Media, its then-managing editor Peter Fray, who was also the website’s editor-in-chief, and Crikey’s political editor Bernard Keane.
Murdoch’s lawyer John Churchill said in a statement he filed a notice of discontinuance on Friday.
“Crikey has tried to introduce thousands of pages of documents from a defamation case in another jurisdiction which has now settled,” the statement said, referring to the Fox News settlement with Dominion Voting Systems announced on Tuesday.
“Mr Murdoch remains confident that the court would ultimately find in his favour, however he does not wish to further enable Crikey’s use of the 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,” Mr Churchill said.
Private Media chief executive Will Hayward said his company, which is valued at less than 20 million Australian dollars (£10.8 million), stood by Crikey’s description of the Murdochs as conspirators in the Capitol violence.
“It’s really important that in Australia, journalists have to room to express good faith opinions and they don’t have to be terrified of litigious billionaires,” Mr Hayward added.
Mr Hayward and Private Media chairman Eric Beecher said in a joint statement they are “proud to have exposed the hypocrisy and abuse of power of a media billionaire”.
“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,” the statement said.
Crikey’s law firm Marque Lawyers said Murdoch will be expected to pay all legal costs.
“We and our client are well pleased,” the firm tweeted.
The Crikey suit had been set for a three-week hearing in Sydney starting on October 9.
Murdoch said the Crikey article conveyed a meaning that he illegally conspired with former US president Donald Trump to “incite a mob with murderous intent to march on the Capitol” to prevent the transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
The article did not name Murdoch but referred to “the Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators”.
Sydney University defamation law expert David Rolph said the trial would have been the first test case of a new public interest defence that came into effect across most of Australia in 2021.
The public interest defence is part of a raft of reforms designed to make Australian defamation laws “slightly less plaintiff-friendly”, Mr Rolph said.
“That was a major defence that was pleaded by Crikey here. This was going to be the first test case. We’ll have to wait for the next one,” he added.
Mr Rolph said one of the reasons Murdoch dropped the case was that Crikey was trying to expand its defences by incorporating revelations from the Dominion litigation.
The voting technology firm had sued Fox for 1.6 billion US dollars (about £1.3 billion), alleging its business was harmed and employees threatened when it was baselessly accused of rigging its voting machines against Mr Trump in the 2020 election.
The settlement followed the disclosures of the mountain of evidence that would have been presented at trial, showing many Fox executives and on-air talent did not believe the accusations aired on some Fox shows but they feared angering Mr Trump fans with the truth.