Ridicule directed at Murdoch, lawyer says

·2-min read

Online news site Crikey was directing ridicule and hatred towards Lachlan Murdoch since the media mogul launched a defamation lawsuit against it, a judge has been told.

Crikey had paid for billboards in Melbourne this week continuing a claim of martyrdom in being sued by someone wealthy, his barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said on Friday in the Federal Court.

She asked Justice Michael Wigney for the earliest hearing date possible, referring to the conduct of Crikey's publisher, Private Media, over the last four weeks.

Its barrister, Michael Hodge KC joined in the bid for an early date before the judge listed the hearing to commence on March 27 for an estimated nine days.

Last month the co-chair of News Corp and chief executive of Fox Corporation launched defamation proceedings against Crikey over a June 29 opinion piece by political editor Bernard Keane.

It related to hearings into former US president Donald Trump and the Capitol riots in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.

Mr Murdoch alleges it contained defamatory meanings including a false claim 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".

Private Media denied the article defames Mr Murdoch as alleged and will argue it didn't cause serious harm to him.

The independent outlet is also putting forward the new public interest defence, implied freedom of political communication and failure to accept reasonable offer of amends.

The defence also states it believed the references to the Murdochs were "self-evidently hyperbolic" and "no one would read the words literally as suggesting that the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy".

In its reply, Mr Murdoch's lawyers deny the article concerns a matter of public interest and accused Crikey of seeking to boost subscriptions, gain publicity and/or engender public sympathy.

At the first case management hearing on Friday, Ms Chrysanthou cited Crikey's conduct over the past four weeks.

She said the CEO of Private Media had published a video purporting to explain its defence.

"It would appear how the respondents are portraying the proceedings and are portraying what is, in fact, in issue is very different to what the pleaded issues are."

She said it would no doubt increase subscriptions and money paid into its GoFund account.

But it was also directing ridicule and hatred towards her client who had been mocked on the billboards, she said.

While he set a hearing date, Justice Wigney said he would be directing the parties to take part in mediation when "cool, commercial minds may prevail".

"I admire Your Honour's optimism," she replied.

An interlocutory application by Ms Chrysanthou relating to the pleadings put forward by Crikey was listed for hearing on October 10.