Few people disagree with 'freedom of the press' but should it be able to peddle baseless lies with impunity?
In the months following the 2020 US presidential election, rightwing TV news in America was a wild west, an apparently lawless free-for-all where conspiracy theories about voting machines, ballot-stuffed suitcases and dead Venezuelan leaders were repeated to viewers around the clock. There seemed to be total disregard for peddling the most outrageous ideas on primetime.
But now, unfortunately for Fox News, it turns out that this brave new world wasn’t free from legal jurisdiction. That's surely good news for the importance of telling the truth and to start getting America back to being a (mostly) fact based democracy.
Last month, Dominion Voting Systems, which provided voting machines to 28 states, was given the go-ahead to sue Fox Corp, the parent company of Fox News. In the $1.6bn lawsuit, Dominion accuses Fox Corp, and the Murdochs specifically, of allowing Fox News to amplify false claims that the voting company had rigged the election for Joe Biden.
Fox Corp had attempted to have the suit dismissed, but a Delaware judge said Dominion had shown adequate evidence for the suit to proceed.
“These allegations support a reasonable inference that Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch either knew Dominion had not manipulated the election or at least recklessly disregarded the truth when they allegedly caused Fox News to propagate its claims about Dominion,” Judge Eric Davis said.
Davis’s ruling is not a guarantee that Fox will be found liable. But the judge made it clear that this isn’t some frivolous attempt by Dominion – and media and legal experts think Fox could be in real trouble.
Indeed, in his ruling, Davis noted that “other newspapers under Rupert Murdoch’s control, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, condemned President Trump’s claims and urged him to concede defeat”.