Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corporation’s chief executive, paid substantial legal fees to Private Media, which publishes the scrappy Australia-based news outlet Crikey, after abandoning his defamation lawsuit against the outlet.
Murdoch’s lawyer, John Churchill, said Tuesday that Murdoch had paid. So, $1,306,739 Australian ($839,207.39 US) to cover Private Media’s legal costs, more than the $1.1 million Australian ($705,000 US) that had been sought by the outlet.
The payout comes more than a year after Crikey published a June 29, 2022, article that called Murdoch an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The story, which doesn’t explicitly name Lachlan Murdoch, was removed the following day after Crikey received a legal threat from the Fox Corp. chief but was subsequently reposted.
Murdoch alleged that the article was both defamatory and levied several false accusations, including that he had conspired with former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 presidential election by “inciting an armed mob to march on the Capitol to physically prevent the confirmation” of election results, court documents show.
In April, Murdoch dropped his defamation suit against Crikey, saying he did not wish 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. Private Media, which stood by its reporting, said the retreat was “a substantial victory for legitimate public interest journalism.”
The decision came just days after Fox News, which is controlled by the Murdoch family, settled a defamation case with Dominion Voting Systems for $787 million, in the largest publicly known defamation settlement involving a US media company.
“Crikey admitted that there is no truth to the imputations that were made about Mr Murdoch in the article and Mr Murdoch remains confident that the court would have ultimately found in his favor,” Murdoch’s lawyer, Churchill, said in a statement Tuesday.
Private Media, which had crowdfunded its legal defense against Murdoch, pledged to donate $588,735 Australian ($377,555 US) — all of the money it had raised — to the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom. Will Hayward, the chief executive of Private Media, said he was “delighted” to be able to donate the funds.
“This money was raised from the goodwill of people across Australia who believe in the importance of free speech,” Hayward said in a statement.” These funds will now go to support the alliance and its team as they champion that cause across the world.”
The AJF said it was “incredibly grateful” for the donation and planned to use it to support the passage of a law ensuring press freedom.
“We will put the funds to good use, to promote greater press freedom, which is essential to a healthy democracy,” AJF executive director, Professor Peter Greste, said in a statement. “This includes campaigning for a Media Freedom Act, supported by a voluntary membership that will recognize quality journalism.”