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Judge wraps up hearing in Dominion defamation suit against Fox; no ruling



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of Fox News headquarters in New York City, U.S. March 4, 2023. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

By Jack Queen and Helen Coster

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – A Delaware judge wrapped up a two-day hearing in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox Corp over vote-rigging claims aired by Fox News, but did not immediately rule on requests by both sides that he decide the case in their favor without moving to a full trial.

Both sides made presentations during a hearing in Wilmington before Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis, with Wednesday’s session lasting three roughly hours.

It is one of the most closely watched defamation cases involving a major U.S. media organization in years, pitting the influential cable news network that features conservative commentators against a company that claims Fox’s coverage ruined its business. The trial is due to start on April 17.

In 2021, Dominion sued Fox Corp and Fox News, accusing them of destroying its reputation by airing false claims by former President Donald Trump and his lawyers that the Denver-based company’s voting machines were used to rig the outcome of the election against him and in favor of Democrat Joe Biden. Fox has argued that coverage of these claims was inherently newsworthy and protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

Dominion has said Fox News knew that allegations were false but continued putting the claims on the air anyway in pursuit of ratings. Dominion maintains that this meets the “actual malice” standard to win a defamation case under which a plaintiff must prove a defendant knowingly spread false information or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

Fox’s lawyers also have invoked the legal doctrine of “neutral reportage,” which holds that the press cannot be held liable for publishing newsworthy allegations in a neutral way.

Both sides are seeking summary judgment – asking the judge to decide the case in their favor before it goes to a jury trial.

On Tuesday, the judge signaled skepticism toward Fox’s arguments during the lawyers’ presentation. Davis said there was tension between Fox’s arguments on “actual malice” and “neutral reportage.”

In their presentation to the judge, Dominion’s lawyers said internal Fox communications prove that the network repeatedly hosted guests who it knew were peddling “reckless” and “completely crazy” falsehoods because it was losing viewers to far-right media competitors.

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