Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation, filed a defamation lawsuit against an Australian news site on Tuesday, a day after the outlet challenged him to make good on his threats to sue over a column that claimed links between the Murdoch family and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Mr. Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, the Fox chairman, filed a statement of claim against Private Media, the parent company of the news outlet, Crikey, in Federal Court in Australia. The move came after Crikey issued its challenge to Lachlan Murdoch in an open letter and in an advertisement in The New York Times, saying it wanted to make the dispute a test case for Australia’s strict defamation laws.
The opinion article at the center of the conflict, which lamented the “sorry state of U.S. politics and the Jan. 6 insurrection,” carried the headline: “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator.” It went on to say that the Murdochs and “poisonous” Fox News commentators had contributed to the assault on American democracy.
In legal letters published by Crikey, Mr. Murdoch’s lawyers asserted that the article contained “scandalous allegations of criminal conduct and conspiracy” and imputations that are “false and calculated to harm Mr. Murdoch.”
Peter Fray, the editor in chief of Crikey, said in a statement on Tuesday, “Crikey stands by its story and we look forward to defending our independent public interest journalism in court against the considerable resources of Lachlan Murdoch.”
Mr. Fray added, “We welcome the chance to test what an honest, open and public debate actually means for free speech in Australia.”
In the United States, Fox is fighting its own defamation suits tied to the 2020 election. Two voting machine companies have filed multibillion dollar claims, arguing that Fox News knowingly and repeatedly aired false statements linking them to a conspiracy to steal votes from former President Donald J. Trump.
Fox has said the lawsuits are an assault on First Amendment protections for journalists.
Those protections make it much harder to successfully sue media organizations in the United States than in Australia, where public figures frequently sue for libel and news outlets have said the laws were an impediment to press freedom.
Australia recently enacted new defamation laws across most states that require the plaintiff to show a publication caused “serious harm” to their reputations and allow the defendant to argue publication was a matter of public interest.