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News Corp appeals ruling in Geoffrey Rush defamation suit

SYDNEY, May 6 (Reuters) - News Corp's Australian arm on Monday appealed a judgment awarding Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush at least A$850,000 ($594,000) in defamation damages over articles saying he behaved inappropriately toward a co-star in a production of "King Lear".

The Federal Court ruled last month that News Corp's Daily Telegraph tabloid in Sydney had failed to prove the stories were true.

"The Daily Telegraph is appealing the Rush decision," News spokesman Campbell Reid said in an email on Monday.

The newspaper said in a report on Monday that there were 16 grounds for its appeal, and that Justice Michael Wigney's conduct of the case "gave rise to an apprehension of bias".

The Federal Court did not immediately respond to a Reuters' request for comment. Rush's lawyer declined to comment.

Under the headline "KING LEER", and in later articles, the paper had said Rush, playing the title role of a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of the Shakespeare play, had been accused by a co-star of unspecified inappropriate conduct.

Rush, 67, had said the articles were hastily compiled because the Telegraph wanted an Australian angle on accusations of sexual assault levelled at U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein.

The actor who won an Oscar in 1997 for his lead role in "Shine" and has since appeared in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, said the stories implied he was a "major pervert" or guilty of major depravity.

In handing down his decision, Wigney called the stories "recklessly irresponsible" and "sensationalist journalism of the worst kind, the very worst kind".

The court awarded at least A$850,000 in preliminary damages and will later determine further damages for economic harm, such as Rush's loss of movie roles and the effect on his career. ($1 = 1.4312 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Tom Westbrook; editing by Darren Schuettler)