Rupert Murdoch faces questions over Fox News claims about Dominion Voting's technology

Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is set to be questioned under oath on Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit over his network's coverage of unfounded vote-rigging claims during the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Lawsuit filed by Toronto-founded Dominion could have implications for U.S. media if it reaches trial

Closeup of an elderly man wearing a blue dark suit and black glasses.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News Channel, seen in New York in 2017, is scheduled to sit for a two-day deposition. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is set to be questioned under oath on Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit over his network's coverage of unfounded vote-rigging claims during the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Election technology company Dominion Voting Systems is seeking $1.6 billion US in damages from Fox News Network, which it alleges spread false claims that its machines were used to rig the 2020 election against Republican Donald Trump and in favour of his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Fox has argued that it had a right to report on Trump's claims of vote manipulation and that Dominion's lawsuit would stifle press freedom. A judge rejected the network's bid to toss the case in December 2021. A Fox spokesperson declined to comment.

"From the highest levels down, Fox knowingly spread lies," Dominion said in a statement.

Murdoch, 91, is the most high-profile figure to face questioning in the case, which is part of a multi-front legal campaign by Dominion against Fox and other conservative outlets and commentators who accused the company of conspiring to oust Trump.

A five-week trial in the Fox case is scheduled to begin on April 17.

'Actual malice' needs to be proven

Murdoch will be questioned via videoconference on Tuesday and Wednesday by lawyers for Dominion, according to a filing in Delaware Superior Court. The session will not be open to the public.

Dominion was founded by Canadian John Poulos in Toronto, its touch-screen technology originally developed to assist the visually and physically impaired in their voting.

Poulos recently told 60 Minutes that the allegations have subjected the company's employees to threats and harassment in the wake of the 2020 election claims.

In the background of the January 6th Committee hearings, a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News is ballooning into a very big deal. Dominion Voting Systems accuses Fox of pushing false claims of election fraud that cast Dominion as the villain. This week, former attorney general William Barr was subpoenaed by the court — a sign that things are heading in “a very serious direction,” according to Erik Wemple, a columnist and media critic for The Washington Post.

Dominion has also sought communications from Murdoch, his son Lachlan Murdoch and other Fox News personnel as it looks to prove that the network either knew the statements it aired were false or recklessly disregarded their accuracy. That is the standard of "actual malice," which public figures must prove in order to prevail in defamation cases.

Doug Mirell, a defamation lawyer who has followed the litigation, said he believes Dominion has an "airtight" case for actual malice because Fox hosts pressed forward with vote-rigging allegations "well after it was quite clear that these claims were demonstrably false."

Dominion, with U.S. headquarters in Denver, alleged in its March 2021 lawsuit that Fox amplified the false theories to boost its ratings and stay abreast of hard-right competitors including One America News Network, which the company is also suing.

Rudy Giuliani points to a map on Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington, D.C., where both he and Sidney Powell, left, made unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Both Powell and Giuliani face legal exposure from Dominion Voting Systems in lawsuits separate from the Fox News case. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The complaint cited instances where, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell appeared on Fox News and falsely claimed Dominion software may have manipulated vote counts in favour of Biden.

On Nov. 30, 2020, for example, Powell appeared on Sean Hannity's program, where she falsely stated that Dominion machines "ran an algorithm that shaved off votes from Trump and awarded them to Biden. And they used the machines to trash large batches of votes that should have been awarded to President Trump."

Several Fox hosts grilled

Murdoch's high-stakes deposition on Tuesday comes as Dominion has spent the past several months questioning a parade of Fox News hosts, executives and producers.

On Dec. 5, Murdoch's eldest son and executive chair and CEO of Fox Corp., Lachlan, sat for a deposition in Los Angeles. Murdoch's other son, James Murdoch, was questioned in October.

Fox hosts and co-hosts Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and Bret Baier have also been questioned in recent months, court records show, as well as former host Lou Dobbs. Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace have also sat for depositions.

Hannity and Dobbs previously faced depositions in a lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer whose 2016 killing on a Washington, D.C., street spurred conspiracy-minded coverage on the network. Fox settled that lawsuit for an undisclosed amount before it headed to trial.

The deposition on Tuesday comes as special committees of the boards of directors for News Corp and Murdoch-controlled Fox Corp. consider a proposal from Murdoch to re-combine, nearly a decade after the companies split.

With files from CBC News