Beyond a brief note published on its website and read live by its on-screen presenters, Fox had kept silent about the agreement to pay Dominion 787.5 million dollars (about 720 million euros at the current exchange rate). ) and thus avoid a defamation trial for the lies about a false electoral rigging that Fox News aired after the 2020 presidential elections. This Tuesday, Fox presented its results, with quarterly losses for compensation. In the conference with analysts, the president and CEO of the company, Lachlan Murdoch, son of the tycoon Rupert Murdoch, has defended the agreement with Dominion as “a business decision” and the departure of its star presenter, Tucker Carlson, as an adjustment programming.
“We made the business decision to resolve this dispute and avoid the acrimony of a divisive trial and multi-year decision or appeal process clearly in the best interest of the company and its shareholders. The agreement in no way alters Fox’s commitment to the highest journalistic standards throughout our company, nor our passion for reporting the news of the day openly,” Murdoch said at the end of the initial intervention to present the results.
The issue has come up again in the first question from analysts. Murdoch has defended Fox reporting Donald Trump’s election rigging allegations: “We always act like a news organization that reports on the newsworthy events of the day. Indeed, we publicized the accusations made by the incumbent president of the United States and his lawyers after a hotly contested presidential election. We have trusted and continue to trust the merits of our position that the First Amendment [que consagra la libertad de expresión] protects news organizations that report on accusations made by a sitting president of the United States,” he began by saying.
That was his initial legal strategy in the case. The judge, however, decided in the previous questions that if Fox knew that the accusations were false he could not excuse himself in the interest of his information to escape the conviction for defamation. “The Delaware courts severely limited our trial defense options in their previous decisions. An example of this was the impossibility of indicating the newsworthy nature of the accusations. So we decided that it was in the best interest of the company and its shareholders to settle rather than go ahead with a six-week trial, and potentially two or even three years of appeals,” he explained.
The first analyst who has intervened has also asked about the departure of Tucker Carlson, the one who was a star presenter on Fox and one of those who spread the falsehoods. Carlson was fired, in what was billed as a consensual break, shortly after the Dominion deal. Murdoch has responded without citing his name: “Regarding our programming strategy in prime time, there is no change in our programming strategy at Fox News. It’s obviously a successful strategy and as always, you know, we’re adjusting our schedule and our grid and that’s what we continue to do. We are satisfied with the strength of the advertising demand in all our programming, but particularly in prime time”, he explained.
One of the big unknowns is whether, after the agreement with Dominion, Fox will also try to reach an agreement with Smarmatic, the other company that Fox presenters and guests falsely pointed out as responsible for this electoral rigging that did not exist. The whole spectacle of internal messages, knowingly exposing falsehoods and uncomfortable interrogations can be repeated in this case and it would have been of little use to agree with Dominion. There is also the possibility that the investigation of the case goes along somewhat different paths. Whether or not to ultimately agree, at the moment what Fox is doing is denying it, complying with the manual.
“As you know, we have a pending case with Smartmatic, which is a fundamentally different case than Dominion, where our entire suite of First Amendment-based defenses stands. We will be prepared to defend this case around extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, probably not until 2025.”
In the report that the company has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Fox says that it continues to “continue to believe that the Smartmatic lawsuit and other claims for defamation or disparagement are without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them, including through any appeal.”
It acknowledges that the investigation process in the case is ongoing and it is probable that statements will be taken, documents delivered, hearings and other motions of the instruction, but maintains that “a loss in the Smartmatic case is neither probable nor reasonably estimable ”.
The compensation to Dominion has caused Fox to declare losses of 54 million dollars (close to 50 million euros) in the first quarter, compared to profits of 283 million dollars in the same period of the previous year, which for the company represents the third quarter of its fiscal year.
But beyond those legal costs, the results reported to the SEC show strong revenue growth and a healthy balance sheet that have made it eligible for compensation. Fox posted total quarterly revenue of $4.08 billion, up 18% from $3.46 billion in the same quarter a year earlier. Advertising revenue increased 43%, mainly reflecting the impact of the Super Bowl, higher volume of NFL games and the continued growth of Tubi, the company explains. Affiliation fee revenues increased 3%, with 9% growth in the TV segment. Other income was virtually unchanged from the prior-year quarter.
In the accumulated of the first nine months of its fiscal year, the company invoiced 11,881 million dollars, 8.5% more than the previous year. Nine-month cumulative profit, despite the impact of third-quarter losses, is $864 million, just 4% less than a year earlier. The company closed the quarter with 4,146 million dollars in cash.
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