The notion that an article published in Crikey linking the Murdoch family to the deadly US Capitol riots in January 2021 did not cause Lachlan Murdoch serious harm is “farcical”, the Federal Court heard on Friday morning.
Murdoch is suing Crikey’s publisher Private Media, journalist Bernard Keane and Crikey’s editor-in-chief Peter Fray.
In the first hearing for the matter, Murdoch’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC told the court the article, which was written by Keane and published on June 29 and republished on August 15, accused the Murdochs of being connected to “underhanded criminality which resulted in death”.
In the January 6 riots, in which five people died, about 2000 people entered the US Capitol building following statements by former US president Donald Trump that the November 2020 election had been “stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats”.
The Crikey article named the Murdoch family as “unindicted co-conspirators” of former US president Donald Trump, due to the Murdoch family’s ownership of Fox News, which had amplified these statements.
Most of this morning’s proceedings were concerned with working out a timetable for the hearing. Justice Michael Wigney indicated that the earliest possible date for the proposed nine-day hearing would be March 27 next year, but parties will return to court on October 10 for an interlocutory hearing.
Private Media is using a new public interest defence, in what is likely to be the first test of the law in Australia. In addition, a new “serious harm” test is now law in most parts of Australia, including NSW, where the trial will be held. The publisher denies that the article satisfies the serious harm test, a matter which was strongly disputed in court this morning.
Chrysanthou said that the provision had been intended only to “weed out trivial, vexatious, backyard disputes”.
“Taking on this fight is risky and we are not foolish enough to predict its outcome,” Hayward said.
“However, we believe that there is an issue of fundamental public importance at stake, and that is why we are defending the case brought against our company and our journalists.”