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Dominion isn’t Rupert Murdoch’s costliest legal defeat. Not even close


By Julia Horowitz, CNN

Fox News will pay more than $787 million to Dominion Voting Systems after the two sides reached a last-minute settlement Tuesday in the explosive defamation case tied to the news network’s lies about the 2020 US election.

It is the largest publicly known defamation settlement involving a media company in US history.

The outcome is a painful one for Fox, which acknowledged the court’s findings that “certain claims about Dominion” are “false,” a rare admission that the network spread misinformation.

The bill for Fox’s conduct in the wake of the 2020 election could yet swell significantly if another voting technology company — Smartmatic — is successful in its own $2.7 billion lawsuit. But for now, the price tag attached to the Dominion case isn’t the worst Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch has had to stomach.

A phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper empire in the United Kingdom has proven much more costly over the past decade or so. The financial fallout of that scandal topped £1 billion, or $1.24 billion, according to a 2021 investigation by Press Gazette, a British publication focused on the media industry.

The Press Gazette added up costs related to the scandal, which were disclosed between 2011 and 2020. It looked at legal fees and damages, as well as expenses tied to the subsequent restructuring of Murdoch’s UK media empire. The costs have risen further since 2020.

The last big Murdoch legal fight

The editor of Murdoch’s News of the World and a private investigator were convicted of conspiracy to hack the voicemails of British royals in 2007. The scandal burst back into the spotlight in 2010 and 2011 amid allegations that phone hacking was a common practice at the Sunday tabloid and that UK police had been complicit.

British journalists stood accused of illegally hacking the voicemails of thousands of people, ranging from top politicians and celebrities to murder victims and the families of troops killed in action.

The News of the World, one of Britain’s oldest and best-selling newspapers, was ultimately shuttered in July 2011, shortly after it was revealed that journalists at the publication possibly hacked into the voicemail of missing teenager Milly Dowler in 2002 and deleted messages to free space, causing her parents to believe she was still alive.

A few months later, News International, the paper’s publisher, agreed to pay £2 million ($2.5 million) to Dowler’s family. Murdoch agreed to donate £1 million ($1.2 million) to charities of their choice.

The Press Gazette also included in its tally more than £300 million ($373 million) in costs tied to the closure of the News of the World and the breakup fee for Murdoch’s attempted takeover of British broadcaster BSkyB, which was dropped in 2011 as negative coverage ballooned.

In the years since, legal costs for Murdoch-owned media companies tied to phone hacking — a practice for which Murdoch has since apologized — have continued to climb.

Payouts have gone to public figures such as singer Elton John, actress Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Mills, the ex-wife of Paul McCartney.

Unresolved claims

And the scandal isn’t over yet. The publisher of The Sun tabloid, another Murdoch title, said it incurred nearly £47 million ($58 million) in costs tied to “allegations of voicemail interception and inappropriate payments to public officials” in the year to July 3, 2022. News Group Newspapers (NGN) has set aside another £53 million ($66 million) for additional claims. The ultimate cost may be significantly higher or lower once those cases are resolved.

Britain’s Prince Harry and actor Hugh Grant are among those who have filed legal challenges against The Sun tied to phone hacking.

In a statement, NGN said: “In 2012, an unreserved apology was made to all of those who had brought cases against the News of the World for voicemail interception. Since then, NGN has been paying financial damages to claimants.”

It added that “a number of disputed claims,” including some involving The Sun, were still going through the courts.

“The Sun does not accept liability or make any admissions to the allegations. It is of course common litigation practice for parties to reach a settlement before trial to bring a resolution to the matter for commercial reasons,” NGN said.

Phone hacking claims have proved costly for other media companies too. Grant settled a phone hacking case against Mirror Group Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, for an undisclosed amount in 2018.

The company had admitted all three newspapers had hacked into his voicemails.

Separately, Prince Harry is pursuing Associated Newspapers over allegations of unlawful information gathering. The Duke of Sussex last year joined a group of high-profile figures in legal action against the publisher of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Mail Online.

The lawsuit accuses Associated Newspapers of engaging in various means of criminal activity to obtain information on high-profile figures over the years.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Business/Consumer

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