Federal MPs Craig Kelly and George Christensen have claimed YouTube’s week-long ban for Sky News Australia is “censorship”, while the channel slammed the tech giant for a “disturbing assault on freedom of thought”.
As The New Daily reported on Sunday, YouTube has restricted the account of Sky News – one of the biggest channels in Australia, with more than 1.86 million subscribers – for a week and deleted several of its videos, as part of a crackdown on COVID-19 ‘misinformation’.
YouTube won’t confirm which videos earned the news outlet the shutdown, but a senior Sky News editor hinted they debated the merits of masks and lockdowns.
A spokesperson for Google-owned YouTube said Sky had been given a “strike” for posting videos that the platform claimed constituted “misinformation” about COVID. They said YouTube does not permit content that “encourages people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus”.
A strike means the channel is restricted from posting new videos for seven days.
‘Censorship’ to see Sky News banned from YouTube: MPs
Sky’s YouTube channel publishes dozens of videos every day, from short news bulletin clips to longer interviews and editorial segments from its ‘after dark’ conservative opinion programs.
However, the channel has not posted since Thursday.
Posting on his Telegram channel on Sunday, 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 wrote.
Mr Kelly, a former Coalition MP, quit the party after coming under fire for his views about the virus, and specifically mentioned ivermectin as a factor in defecting to the crossbench. He also lashed the YouTube decision.
“We have foreign tech billionaires censoring what Australians can hear,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.
Mr Kelly, who has been removed or restricted from Facebook and Twitter, claimed “big tech” was “controlling and censoring the media”.
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”.
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 Houghton said 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”.
YouTube defended its decision, saying it applies policies “equally for everyone regardless of uploader”.
“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.
Bigger online audience than main commercial networks
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 News Australia’s YouTube videos regularly rack up hundreds of thousands or even millions of views.
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. But a strike is issued if “your content doesn’t follow our policies for a second time”.
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.
The YouTube sting comes after Sky host Alan Jones was dropped from his column in News Corp’s Daily Telegraph and criticised by former 2GB Radio colleague Ray Hadley following controversial comments on lockdowns and the pandemic.
Sky News Australia also posted a correction on its website last month, following a segment where Jones interviewed Mr Kelly about the COVID pandemic and death rates in the United Kingdom.
Jones gave 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.