(New York) Will Fox News pay a hefty bill for giving credence to the false theory of a rigged US presidential election in 2020? Jury selection kicked off on Thursday at the trial of the Tories’ flagship chain, which is being sued by an electronic voting machine company.

“The stakes are very high for Fox News. If it is found guilty of defamation, the channel potentially risks having to pay around a billion dollars,” summarizes Nicole Hemmer, associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University and media specialist, to AFP.

“It’s not enough to bankrupt it, but enough to have real effects on its future plans and overall financial health,” she adds of tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s pearl of empire, sounding board for the ideological battles of the conservatives.

In total, Dominion Voting Systems, which operated in 28 states during the 2020 election, is seeking $1.6 billion in damages in a civil court in the state of Delaware (east), where the selection of the jury started in the morning, according to CNN.

A staggering amount, but according to the company, up to the damage for having been presented on Fox News, the most watched American cable channel, as “ the bad guy ” of a “ fabricated story ” after the presidential election of 2020 lost by Donald Trump, she wrote in her complaint.

In a tense atmosphere, Donald Trump accused the Biden camp of all kinds of fraud without proof. His advisers, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, pointed the finger at Dominion at Fox News, portraying the company as linked to the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela.

The trial will be followed closely in the United States, where it is seen as a test for freedom of expression, protected by the first amendment to the Constitution, but also for the fight against misinformation.

The case is deemed strong and the company has already won a round when Judge Eric Davis said in a March 31 order that it was “crystal clear that no assertion about Dominion during the election of 2020 (was) true ”.

But media convictions for defamation are rare in the United States, because the plaintiff must establish a willful intent to spread false information in an attempt to harm them.

The jury will have to decide unanimously to find Fox News guilty, after hearings which should see the main stars of the channel testify. Dominion Voting Systems also called Fox Corporation founder Rupert Murdoch, 92, and his son, CEO Lachlan Murdoch, as witnesses.

Regularly accused of echoing conspiracy theories, Fox News wants to make the trial an emblematic case for freedom of the press.

For the channel, it was legitimate to give the floor to the Trump camp when it contested the vote and “ essential for the search for the truth ” to let all parties express themselves.

But the affair gave rise to an embarrassing unpacking for Fox News, with the publication of exchanges of emails or text messages showing that within the chain and its parent company Fox Corporation, there was little belief in the scenario of a rigged election, down to big boss Rupert Murdoch.

A “really crazy thing. And damaging”, he wrote in an email titled “Watching Giuliani! to Fox News boss Suzanne Scott.

The numerous messages, obtained within the framework of the procedure and also emanating from stars of the chain, like Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, are at the heart of the argument of the plaintiff, according to which Fox News was lying on purpose, so as not to lose its viewers.

On the contrary, the chain accuses Dominion Voting Systems of having carried out a truncated and biased selection.

Jury selection is due to wrap up this week and the trial is due to get into the thick of things starting Monday.