Fox chief executive Lachlan Murdoch on Tuesday defended his decision to settle litigation over the network’s role in airing conspiracy theories about election fraud, telling investors it “in no way alters Fox’s commitment to the highest journalistic standards”.
Fox last month agreed to a last-minute deal to pay nearly $800mn to settle a lawsuit from voting technology company Dominion, one of the biggest defamation awards in US history.
That decision weighed on Fox’s earnings, pushing the company to a $50mn net loss in the first three months of the year.
In a call with analysts after the company’s results, Murdoch framed the settlement as a “business decision” to “avoid the acrimony of a divisive trial” while blaming a Delaware court for restricting Fox’s defence.
“We have been and remain confident in the merits of our position, that the first amendment protects a news organisation’s reporting on newsworthy events,” Murdoch said.
The Delaware judge had in effect rejected that position, ruling in March that the US Constitution’s first amendment offered no free-speech protection to those deliberately broadcasting lies. “The Delaware court severely limited our defence in the trial in pretrial rulings,” Murdoch said.
The move to settle was “clearly in the best interest of the company and its shareholders” to avoid a six-week trial and appeals process that could have lasted two or three years, he added. “We’re proud of our Fox News team.”
The cost of the settlement pushed Fox to a loss despite an 18 per cent year-on-year jump in its first-quarter revenue to more than $4bn. Advertising revenue surged more than 40 per cent to $1.9bn in the quarter, boosted by the Super Bowl and other NFL games. On an adjusted basis, the company reported earnings of 94 cents a share, above estimates of analysts polled by Refinitiv of 87 cents.
It has been a tumultuous year for Fox Corp, with star anchor Tucker Carlson abruptly exiting the network last month, only days after the Dominion settlement.
On a call with analysts, Murdoch dodged a question about Carlson’s ousting, saying: “As always, we are adjusting our programming and our line-up.”