Rupert Murdoch to be deposed in Smartmatic defamation case

Rupert Murdoch is set to be questioned under oath on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of voting technology company Smartmatic’s $2.7bn defamation lawsuit against Fox Corp over coverage of debunked vote-rigging claims involving the 2020 US presidential election, a person familiar with the matter said.

Murdoch will be deposed in Los Angeles, according to that person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The deposition does not appear on the public docket for the case.

Murdoch, 92, had been the chairman of Fox Corp and News Corp before the companies announced in September that he was stepping down, becoming chairman emeritus of each company as of mid-November. As part of the transition, his son Lachlan Murdoch became the sole chairman of News Corp and continues as the chair and chief executive officer of Fox.

Representatives for Fox News and Murdoch did not respond to requests for comment about the deposition. A representative for Fox Corp declined to comment.

Florida-based Smartmatic is seeking damages from Fox Corp, Fox News and five individuals: Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who were lawyers for Donald Trump; and Fox hosts Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro, as well as former Fox host Lou Dobbs.

Smartmatic alleges in its lawsuit filed in state court in New York that the defendants knowingly spread false claims that the company’s software was used to flip votes in favor of Joe Biden and against Trump.

Fox has denied the allegations made by Smartmatic.

In previous statements, Fox has said that the network had a right to report on highly newsworthy allegations of voter fraud, that its job was to inform the public, and that airing fraud claims was protected by the US constitution’s first amendment protections for press freedom. It also has called Smartmatic’s damages claims “outrageous, unsupported and not rooted in sound financial analysis”.

Murdoch is not a named defendant in the case. But by establishing that he was involved in making decisions about Fox’s coverage, Smartmatic would have a better chance of proving that Fox Corp is liable. In order to prevail in a defamation case, Smartmatic must prove that Fox knowingly spread false information or recklessly disregarded the truth, the standard known as “actual malice”.

A New York state appeals court in February rejected Fox’s bid to dismiss the case, finding that Smartmatic had alleged in “detailed fashion” how Fox “effectively endorsed and participated” in defamation.

Fox Corp and Fox News in April settled for $787.5m another defamation lawsuit, brought by voting technology firm Dominion Voting Systems. It was the largest-ever defamation settlement publicly announced by an American media company, according to legal experts. Rupert Murdoch sat for a deposition in that case as well.

Smartmatic lawyers during the deposition may ask Murdoch about his private opinions about the 2020 election and how closely he followed Fox’s coverage as they seek to establish that he could have reined in the network’s anchors but chose not to.

Murdoch said during his deposition in the Dominion case that he believed the election was fair. He acknowledged having concerns about Fox’s coverage of the debunked voting fraud claims but said he did not play an active role in shaping it.

Dominion had accused Fox of ruining its business by airing claims that its machines were used to rig the 2020 election. Fox said in a statement at the time of the settlement that it acknowledged “the court’s ruling finding certain claims about Dominion to be false” and that the settlement reflected “Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards”.

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