Hang on, doesn’t Murdoch support free speech?
This article in a Left-leaning newspaper is being deliberately obtuse. Defamation has never anywhere been protected speech. It has always been actionable speech. And this case is no different. Lachlan Murdoch was clearly defamed so is free to sue no matter how strongly he supports common free-speech immunities. He can do so with no inconsistency
This is a story that, in many respects, is of David and Goliath proportions. On one side is Fox News boss Lachlan Murdoch, one of the world’s most powerful media executives, and on the other is Crikey, a small, progressive news website ran by long-time local media proprietor and former editor Eric Beecher.
At issue is an almost throwaway last line in a comment piece published in late June by Crikey on the US congressional hearings investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in 2021. The opinion article was about Donald Trump’s egregious attempts to subvert the election result and ended thus: “The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis.” According to Lachlan Murdoch’s lawyers, the story implied the media scion “illegally conspired with Donald Trump to incite an armed mob to march on the Capitol”.
Murdoch took umbrage, and threatened to sue Crikey for defamation. The website responded by removing the article but refused to apologise and questioned the validity of the case. In a tit-for-tat exchange of legal letters, the stoush escalated, with both sides unwilling to back down and Crikey goading Murdoch into taking it to court.
The case may well end up before a judge – a juicy case indeed – but there are some broader implications at play. First, Lachlan’s father Rupert – one of the richest and most powerful media moguls in the world – has never sued for defamation. You can criticise the elder Murdoch for much, but at least he appears to understand that with his endless opportunities to have his say, suing for supposed reputational damage is not appropriate.
His son, however, has no such self-awareness but is thin-skinned – the article never even named Lachlan. For any Murdoch, presiding over media organisations which at their worst insult, distort and aggressively attack opponents, to sue a small website for saying bad things about him is astonishing. The Murdoch media champion “free speech” to the point of nausea, but not this time.