News YouTube restricts Sky News channel over ‘COVID misinformation’
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YouTube restricts Sky News channel over ‘COVID misinformation’

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YouTube has restricted Sky News Australia’s channel for a week and deleted several of its videos as part of a new crackdown on COVID ‘misinformation’.

It comes after Sky host Alan Jones was dropped from his column in News Corp’s Daily Telegraph and heavily criticised by former 2GB Radio colleague Ray Hadley following controversial comments on lockdowns and the pandemic.

Despite a relatively small television audience on Foxtel, Sky News Australia has one of the biggest YouTube channels in the country, with 1.86 million subscribers.

By comparison, ABC News has 1.42 million, 9 News Australia 767,000 and 7 News Australia 542,000.

Sky’s YouTube channel published dozens of videos every day, from short news bulletin clips to longer interviews and editorial segments from its ‘after dark’ conservative opinion programs.

Sky News Australia youtube channel
Sky News Australia’s YouTube channel.

But despite an active YouTube presence, Sky News Australia hasn’t published a video on the platform since July 29.

In a statement to The New Daily, a spokesperson for Google-owned YouTube said the channel had been given a “strike” for posting videos that the platform claimed constituted “misinformation” about COVID.

That strike means the channel is restricted from posting new videos for seven days.

“We have clear and established COVID-19 medical misinformation policies based on local and global health authority guidance, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 misinformation that could cause real-world harm,” the YouTube spokesperson said.

“We apply our policies equally for everyone regardless of uploader, and in accordance with these policies and our long-standing strikes system, removed videos from and issued a strike to Sky News Australia’s channel.

YouTube said it doesn’t “allow content that denies the existence of COVID-19 or that encourages people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus”.

“We do allow for videos that have sufficient countervailing context, which the violative videos did not provide,” the statement continued.

YouTube declined to specify exactly which videos had been removed or  how their content breached the platform’s rules.

TND contacted News Corp for comment, but did not immediately receive a response. In a statement on its website, Sky News Australia confirmed the suspension, saying it came after “a review of old uploaded videos”.

“Sky News Australia acknowledges YouTube’s right to enforce its policies and looks forward to continuing to publish its popular news and analysis content back to its audience of 1.85 million YouTube subscribers shortly,” it said.

“We support broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics and perspectives which is vital to any democracy. We take our commitment to meeting editorial and community expectations seriously.”

Sky also said it “expressly rejects that any host has ever denied the existence of COVID-19 as was implied, and no such videos were ever published or removed.”

Hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, drugs long used for treatment of malaria and parasites respectively, had been held up by some – including former US president Donald Trump – as possible COVID treatments. However, their use has been dismissed by medical authorities.

When former Coalition MP Craig Kelly quit to sit as an independent, he specifically mentioned ivermectin as a factor, telling TND “I was greatly concerned with what’s happening with some of the COVID treatments”.

Posting on his Telegram channel, Coalition MP George Christensen – a regular guest on Sky News – responded to the YouTube move by demanding “the Australian government must finally take action on Big Tech censorship”.

“A foreign power should not have that much control over what Australians are able to view and listen to online,” Mr Christensen said.

Sky News Australia’s YouTube videos regularly rack up hundreds of thousands or even millions of views. Many of the most popular clips are from their night-time conservative opinion shows, largely focusing on American politics or international affairs, including Mr Trump and the COVID pandemic, or making claims about the “cognitive” performance of current US President Joe Biden.

YouTube’s community standards system sees a channel permanently deleted if it receives three ‘strikes’ within a 90-day period. A warning is given for a “first violation”, the standards set out. However, the rules continue, “if we find your content doesn’t follow our policies for a second time, you’ll get a strike”.

A first strike means that, for a week, a channel is restricted from uploading videos or live streams, and other actions including creating playlists or thumbnails.

“Full privileges will be restored automatically after the one-week period, but your strike will remain on your channel for 90 days,” YouTube’s standards say.

YouTube’s internal policies don’t allow videos that share medical misinformation about COVID, including those that contradict local health advice on treatments, preventions, transmission or social distancing.

Mr Jones’ Sky News show has come under fire from Mr Hadley in recent days. Mr Hadley claimed Mr Jones had been an “apologist” for anti-lockdown protesters who rallied in Sydney and Melbourne last weekend, and that he had given platforms to “conspiracy theorists” and “anti-vaxxers”.

Sky News Australia also posted a correction on its website last month, following a segment where Mr Jones interviewed Mr Kelly about the COVID pandemic and death rates in the United Kingdom. The channel said that clip had been removed from its websites.

Mr Jones also provided an on-air correction during his show on July 19.

Also on Sunday, Sky News Australia expanded with a new free-to-air offering in regional parts of the country through WIN and Southern Cross.