Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Crikey hired a marketing firm to capitalize on a legal threat from Lachlan Murdoch to boost subscriptions, the News Corporation co-chairman said in federal court.
Murdoch filed a libel suit in August against the independent news site over an article published in June that called the Murdoch family an “unindicted conspirator” in the attack on the US Capitol. The trial has been set for March 2023 but the parties are in dispute on matters of inquiry.
One of the issues Judge Michael Wigney heard in a brief hearing was an allegation by Murdoch’s team that a marketing campaign, run by Populares brand strategists, undermines the public interest defense upon which the publisher of Crikey Private Media.
Related: Lachlan Murdoch’s legal team loses bid to have parts of Crikey’s defamation defense dismissed
In response to a letter of concern from Murdoch in June, Crikey initially agreed to remove the article, but after failing to reach an agreement it was reinstated on August 15.
Sue Chrysanthou SC, for Murdoch, said she intended to show that the republishing of the article was not in the public interest but as a marketing campaign.
He said Populares produced a “significant report” titled the “Lachlan Murdoch Campaign” about how “a dispute with my client could be marketed for the purpose of attracting new readers and getting subscriptions.”
“The purpose of the republication was not for the public interest, it was for the media campaign,” he said.
In his complaint statement in August, Murdoch said the placement of a New York Times advertisement urging him to sue Crikey for alleged defamation was “seeking to humiliate” the executive chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation.
Chrysanthou said social media is “the modern vine” and claimed Crikey had paid for some posts about her client “to be promoted and advertised”.
He requested orders from Crikey to provide additional information in response to questions because the outlines of information presented addressed nothing following the June 29 publication of the article by Crikey’s political editor, Bernard Keane.
Wigney said requiring written answers to about 180 questions, including sub-questions, could delay proceedings, and repeatedly asked Chrysanthou, “Do you want this to go to trial in March?”
“I would withdraw those interrogations that you can cross-examine,” he said.
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Private Media’s lawyer Clarissa Amato said Chrysanthou’s request would result in “a catastrophic waste of time and money”.
“Some of these might just be things that were left off the discovery list by accident… there are other requests that are effectively new categories of documents,” Amato said.
Chrysanthou said social media posts about her client had spread “like a virus” and she allegedly called a social media expert to provide evidence explaining the extent.
“We want the expert to address this issue and the effect of promoting certain posts and how that causes those posts to appear in different people’s feeds,” Chrysanthou said.
He said the expert would be asked to explain some essential posts, relevant to claims of serious harm caused by the publication.
Murdoch is seeking damages because, through the publication and republication of the article, he claims that he “was seriously injured in his character, his personal reputation and his professional reputation as a businessman and director of companies, and has suffered and will continue to suffer substantial harm, distress and embarrassment.”
The parties will return to court on Thursday.