Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation, has repeatedly accused a small Australian news site of defaming him in a column that claimed links between the Murdoch family and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
On Monday, the news organization, Crikey, responded: Go ahead, sue us.
Crikey, an independent website that has chronicled Australian politics and media for more than 20 years, vowed to fight Mr. Murdoch’s legal threats. It also published correspondence it had received from his lawyer.
“We want to defend those accusations in court,” the chairman of Crikey’s parent company said in an open letter published online and in advertisements that ran in The New York Times and The Canberra Times in Australia.
The executive, Eric Beecher, said Crikey had published the letters to highlight “the actions of a powerful media owner (and therefore a competitor of ours) to silence a small publisher by resorting to Australia’s defamation laws — laws that News Corp itself constantly argues should give the media more freedom to fulfill its mandated role.”
A representative for Mr. Murdoch declined to comment.
The opinion article at issue ran on June 29, in the middle of the House committee hearings into the Jan 6. attack and former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The article’s headline read: “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator.”
The body of the Crikey opinion article mostly focused on Mr. Trump’s actions but ended with the sentence: “The Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis.”
Neither the headline nor the body specified to which Murdoch it was referring. Mr. Murdoch’s father, Rupert, is the executive chairman of News Corp, which publishes The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers, and the chairman of Fox Corp, the parent company of Fox News. Fox News is facing defamation suits from two voting machine companies, which argue that the cable news network repeatedly aired false claims about their machines. Fox’s legal team has said it is protected by the First Amendment.
In his open letter published Monday, Mr. Beecher said the headline of the article in question “clearly refers to Rupert Murdoch, the only ‘Murdoch’ used as shorthand by the media and the rest of the world.”
After Lachlan Murdoch’s first legal threat, made shortly after the article ran, Crikey took down the article. Legal correspondence shows that Crikey offered to post an editorial statement clarifying that it believed Mr. Murdoch bore some responsibility for Jan. 6 but acknowledging that he was not directly involved in the events of that day. The offer was rejected by Mr. Murdoch’s lawyers.
The site republished the article this month “in order to clarify recent media reports about a legal threat,” it said in a Twitter post.
Australia has been labeled “the defamation capital of the world” for its sheer volume of libel cases. It is much easier to successfully sue publishers in Australia than it is in the United States, where the news media has broad protections under the First Amendment.
It’s not the first legal tangle between the small publisher and Lachlan Murdoch. Last year, Crikey apologized and deleted an article that contained false claims about Mr. Murdoch’s tenure as a TV network board member. The publisher paid Mr. Murdoch and another complainant $14,000 for legal costs.