The Crikey article was “obviously hyperbolic”, the publisher claims

The Crikey article was “obviously hyperbolic”, the publisher claims

The Crikey article was “obviously hyperbolic”, the publisher claims

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A Crikey article which said the Murdoch family was an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the January 6 riots was “obviously hyperbolic”, publisher Private Media has argued in court documents defending a defamation suit by Lachlan Murdoch filed in the Federal Court. .

Last month, the News Corp co-chairman sued the independent news website for defamation over an article by politics editor Bernard Keane, headlined “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his uncharged co-conspirator.”

Murdoch launched the proceedings after the website republished the article on 15 August, having first taken it offline when the Crikey editor-in-chief, Peter Fray, received a notice of concern on 30 June.

Crikey then published all legal correspondence between lawyers for both parties and bought a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and Canberra Times inviting Murdoch to sue them.

Related: Lachlan Murdoch vs Crikey could turn out to be a misguided adventure in reputation repair | Richard Ackland

Private Media pleaded three defences: the new defense of public interest, implied freedom of political communication and failure to accept reasonable offers of change.

The company said the article did not suggest the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy.

“No one would read the words literally as suggesting that the Murdochs were guilty of criminal conspiracy or treason under US law,” the defense said, filed in the Federal Court ahead of a preliminary hearing by Judge Michael Wigney in Sydney on Friday.

Murdoch has retained barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC and barrister John Churchill and Private Media has barrister Michael Hodge KC, who was a barrister and assisted with the royal commission into the banking sector.

The references to the Murdochs in the article used “creative license to capture the infamous identification of [former US president Richard] Nixon as the ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ in Watergate and draws a parallel to the Jan. 6 riots, the defense said.

Private Media said the article did not cause serious harm to Murdoch because of his alleged “bad reputation … among the Australian people for his role as CEO of Fox News”.

Murdoch is not the CEO of Fox News, he is the CEO of the parent company Fox Corporation, and Suzanne Scott holds that role.

Private Media argues that the references to Murdoch were a statement of Keane’s opinion, “based on his knowledge of the extensive reporting of Fox News’ involvement in the events leading up to January 6 and the Murdochs’ role as guiding minds for Fox’s editorial strategy and programming “.

Neither Keane nor Fray felt it necessary to contact Murdoch for comment because he was not the target of the article and the article was an opinion piece, not news reporting.

At the time of publication, Fray and Keane, who are both respondents, were aware of the importance of free speech in the discussion of matters of public interest, they said.

Related: ‘What game is he playing?’: Lachlan Murdoch, Trump’s election lies and the legal battle against a small Australian website

In their statement of claim filed last month, Murdoch’s lawyers said Crikey used the legal threat to drive subscriptions. When first published on June 26, the article was viewed approximately 6,867 times until it was removed; after it was reposted, it was viewed 58,380 times.

Murdoch’s lawyers said the article, the headline and related social media posts made a series of “highly defamatory and false allegations about him”, were not in the public interest and were part of a cynical scheme to damage Murdoch.

In a response to the defense filed in federal court, Murdoch’s lawyers said they would ask the judge to strike out much of Private Media’s defense because it is “embarrassing and irrelevant to any fact other than to the extent that they were issues in the case. [their] mind”.

The sections Murdoch’s team said are irrelevant include a timeline detailing how Keane told Fray that he had seen the evidence of Cassidy Hutchinson before the committee on January 6 and that he should write about it and that Fray agreed; and Keane’s “extensive university qualifications in history, including a PhD” and “extensive experience working in the Commonwealth Public Service on Australian media policy”.

The defense included a list of Keane’s articles as well as media commentary about Fox’s role in the January 6 riots.

“Both Mr Fray and Mr Keane firmly believed that: the references to Mr Murdoch were a statement of Mr Keane’s opinion, based on his knowledge of the extensive reporting of Fox News’ involvement in the events leading up to January 6 and Murdoch’s role as the controlling mind for Fox’s editorial strategy and programming,” the defense said.

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