Digital giant issues strike after channel posted videos denying the existence of disease and encouraging people to use discredited medication
Last modified on Mon 2 Aug 2021 09.35 BST
Sky News Australia has been banned from uploading content to YouTube for seven days after violating its medical misinformation policies by posting numerous videos which denied the existence of Covid-19 or encouraged people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin.
The ban was imposed by the digital giant on Thursday afternoon, the day after the Daily Telegraph ended Alan Jones’s regular column amid controversy about his Covid-19 commentary which included calling the New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant a village idiot on his Sky News program.
News Corp told Guardian Australia the ending of Jones’s column did not mean the company does not support the “compelling” broadcaster.
YouTube has not disclosed which Sky News program the videos were from but said there were “numerous” offending videos which have now been removed.
The Sky News Australia YouTube channel, which has 1.85m subscribers, has been issued a strike and is temporarily suspended from uploading new videos or livestreams for one week.
The ban will impact Sky News’s revenue stream under the YouTube Partner Program which gives them access to YouTube resources and features.
News Corp also signed a historic multi-year partnership with Google in February under the media bargaining code.
What a damning indictment on our political and media landscape that this extremist, conspiratorial, racist news channel is still considered normal and acceptable. Sky’s time is up. https://t.co/kw6TigECV2
The strike was revealed on the same day as Sky launched a new free-to-air channel Sky News Regional across regional Australia.
The channel carries all the Sky After Dark commentators, including Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Jones, as well as a new three-hour breakfast show.
Videos that did not violate policies and were posted before Thursday are still online. Three strikes in the same 90-day period will result in a channel being permanently removed from YouTube.
“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,” a YouTube spokesperson told Guardian Australia.
“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.
“Specifically, we don’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.”
YouTube’s decisive action is in stark contrast to the response from local media regulators.
Neither the Australian Communications and Media Authority nor the subscription television body, Astra, took any action when informed of Jones’s Covid broadcast on Monday.
“The Acma is aware of the broadcasts and various concerns raised about them,” a spokesman told Guardian Australia. “At this stage we will wait to see how complaints are handled by the broadcaster under the co-regulatory system.”
Sky News Australia said it “expressly rejects” claims that any hosts ever denied the existence of Covid-19 and that “no such videos were ever published or removed”.
The broadcaster said “a review of old videos published to the channel” had uncovered material that did not comply with YouTube’s policies.
“We support broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics and perspectives which is vital to any democracy,” a Sky News Australia spokesperson said.
“We take our commitment to meeting editorial and community expectations seriously.”
Sky’s YouTube channel has grown in two years from 70,000 subscribers to 1.85m, which is higher than ABC News or any other local media company.
One of the most popular videos, with 4.6m views, is Jones’s “Australians must know the truth – this virus is not a pandemic”, which was posted at the height of the pandemic last year.
On 19 July, Sky News was forced to apologise for a Jones interview with MP Craig Kelly in which they claimed the Delta variant is not dangerous and vaccines won’t help you. The video was removed and a lengthy apology was published on the Sky News website.
YouTube is an important platform for Sky News and the more extreme the video, the more popular it is.
Earlier this week after he was dumped by the Daily Telegraph, Jones, 80, pointed to his success on the platform.
“Have a look at Sky News YouTube, Sky News Facebook and Alan Jones Facebook and you can see,” Jones told his viewers. “The same column that I write for the Tele goes up on my Facebook page.
“The public can check it for themselves. Thirty-five years at top of the radio – and I don’t resonate with the public? Honestly.”