YouTube’s week-long banning of Sky News Australia for COVID “misinformation” could be investigated by a Senate inquiry, with calls for both companies and the nation’s media regulator to front up for questioning.
Conservative politicians slammed YouTube’s actions as “big tech censorship”. However, the move to restrict Sky’s huge 1.86 million-subscriber channel could be further probed by federal parliament, with questions raised about why the Australian Communications and Media Authority hadn’t taken actions of its own.
“The obvious question is if the spread of misinformation isn’t allowed on the internet why is it on television broadcasts?” asked Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
She is the chair of the Senate inquiry into media diversity, which was set up after a record-breaking public petition calling for a royal commission into News Corp – which owns Sky News Australia – from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Senator Hanson-Young said she would ask Sky News, YouTube and its parent company Google, and ACMA to appear before a hearing of that inquiry. She claimed ACMA had “failed to take any action” on COVID misinformation and was “sitting on its hands”.
“There are questions for both the government regulator and the companies involved, and the Media Inquiry should investigate,” Senator
“Many people are asking why it takes a tech company to hold Murdoch’s News Corp’s dissemination of Covid misinformation and conspiracy-theories to account. Where is the public media regulator in all this?”
The New Daily contacted YouTube, Sky News and ACMA for comment.
In a statement on its website on Sunday, Sky News said it “acknowledges YouTube’s right to enforce its policies” and it “looks forward” to resuming publishing videos soon.
Sky News claimed the suspension came after “a review of old uploaded videos”.
However, in a separate editorial published to Sky’s website, the channel’s digital editor Jack Houghton called the YouTube ban “a disturbing attack on the ability to think freely”.
YouTube wouldn’t confirm which videos had been removed, but an editorial from Sky News’ digital editor Jack Houghton claimed they were “debates around whether masks were effective and whether lockdowns were justified when considering their adverse health outcomes”.
He noted scientific advice on both points had shifted during the COVID outbreak, and argued “in a pandemic the flow of information changes rapidly”.
Sky’s statement said “we support broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics and perspectives which is vital to any democracy.”
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”.
Senator Hanson-Young said it was “welcome” that YouTube had taken action on “misinformation”. But she added that, since the same content had been published on television as on YouTube, that ACMA had a role to play.
“Sky News is a commercial broadcaster and so the very obvious question is how can they get away with it on television?” she said.
“Sky News broadcasts on both a subscription service and also free-to-air in many regional areas – this puts the news channel clearly in ACMA’s remit.”
Senator Hanson-Young recently won an apology and $40,000 from Sky News Australia, following what she called “defamatory” allegations against her by Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam, broadcast by the network.
Sky News also apologised to Senator Hanson-Young for broadcasting infamous 2018 comments made by then-senator David Leyonhjelm. Sky admitted the comments were “appalling”.
In the midst of a pandemic – more than half the country into lockdown, severe sickness & death, and business suffering – Murdoch's vultures have been caught out lying to the Australian people about basic medical information. And then trying to cover it up. #MurdochRoyalCommission pic.twitter.com/b7UVhZBkvY
— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) August 1, 2021
Mr Rudd, whose calls for a royal commission into News Corp sparked the media diversity inquiry, also noted Sky News’ YouTube suspension on Sunday.
He claimed the broadcaster had been “caught red-handed, putting out lies and disinformation”.