WILMINGTON, Delaware, April 18 (Reuters) – A courtroom battle over a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox Corp ( FOXA.O ) and Fox News continued on Tuesday. The trial puts one of the world’s leading media properties in the crosshairs.
In one of the biggest US libel cases in decades, a jury will decide whether Fox is responsible for broadcasting false claims that Denver-based Dominion’s vote-counting machines were used to favor Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election. President Donald Trump.
After a one-day delay ordered by Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis in Wilmington, Delaware, attorneys for both sides selected 12 key jurors who will decide the case and attorneys for those sides will make opening statements. Selection of alternate jurors continued.
The judge implored both sides to move quickly in what he said was a six-week deadline.
“We’re going to stick to it. I’m not going to give you more time,” the judge said.
Journalists and members of the public started lining up outside the court hours before the court opened. A protester in front of the building held up a sign reading “Fox Convict”.
The hearing is set to feature testimony from Fox CEO Suzanne Scott and 92-year-old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who serves as Fox Corp. chairman, along with on-air hosts including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Brough.
The judge did not give a reason for the 24-hour trial delay, but two sources told Reuters that Fox and Dominion were holding last-minute settlement talks. Fox and Dominion could still settle the case.
Dominion sued Fox Corp. and Fox News in 2021, claiming its business was ruined by false vote-rigging claims aired by the influential U.S. cable news network known for its roster of conservative commentators.
The primary question for jurors is whether Fox knowingly spread false information or ignored the truth, the “actual harm” standard that Dominion must show to win a defamation case. Dominion alleges, based on multiple internal communications, that Fox employees, from newsroom staff all the way up to Murdoch, knew the reports were false but continued to air them for fear of losing viewers to media rivals on the right.
The trial is seen as a test of whether Fox’s coverage crosses the line between ethical journalism and the pursuit of ratings, as Dominion alleges and Fox denies. Fox has portrayed himself as a defender of press freedom in the pre-trial standoff.
Second defamation suit
Adding to the legal risks for Fox, another US voting technology company, Smartmatic, has filed its own defamation suit in New York state court seeking $2.7 billion in damages.
Ahead of lawsuits seeking to hold directors liable for any judgment or settlement, Fox Corp shareholders are seeking company records that would show whether directors and executives properly monitored Fox News coverage of Trump’s election fraud claims, sources told Reuters.
Fox Dominion’s $1.6 billion in damages is unrealistic and based on flawed economic modeling. An expert report commissioned by Dominion attributes the lost contracts to Fox’s coverage, though much of the report remains under seal.
Fox Corp had annual revenue of nearly $14 billion last year.
Dominion said defamatory statements about it were aired on Fox shows including “Sunday Morning Futures,” “Lou Dobbs Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”
Dominion also cited evidence that some hosts and producers thought guests who spread false reports, including former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, could not back up their allegations.
Fox argued that vote-rigging claims are inherently newsworthy and protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. Davis rejected that argument in a ruling last month.
Reporting by Helen Koster in Wilmington and Jack Quinn in New York; Editing by Will Dunham
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