YouTube has dropped the ban hammer on Sky News Australia, issuing its first strike against Sky for breaching the platform’s COVID-19 misinformation rules.
Under YouTube’s strikes policy, Sky’s first strike means the offending content has been removed and Sky will be banned from uploading videos to its channel – which has 1.86 million subscribers – for one week.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the News Corp-owned broadcaster said it supports “broad discussion and debate on a wide range of topics which is vital to any democracy”.
“We take our commitment to meeting editorial and community expectations seriously,” the Sky News Australia spokesperson said.
A YouTube spokesperson said the Google-owned platform has “clear and established COVID-19 medical misinformation policies based on local and global health authority guidance” designed to stop what they called “misinformation that cause real-world harm”.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Exactly which videos violated the policy was not disclosed by either party, but Sky News Digital Editor Jack Houghton said the removed videos included “debates around whether masks were effective and whether lockdowns were justified”.
The Guardian dug into archived versions of Sky’s YouTube playlist and uncovered six of the removed videos, most of which discussed drugs hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin for treating COVID-19.
Houghton naturally defended his organisation, suggesting in an editorial published on the Sky News Australia site that a one-week ban from posting on YouTube was a precursor to totalitarian horrors like “Holodomor, Auschwitz and Mao”.
He called YouTube’s ban inconsistent, saying it issued the strike based on videos from earlier in the pandemic and was “looking at the debates and discussions [around COVID-19] through the lens of contemporary health advice”.
But Sky’s critics say the ban is too little too late and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) should be taking a stronger stance on COVID-19 misinformation.
Chair of a senate inquiry into media diversity, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said on Monday she was looking to haul Sky, Google, and ACMA in front of the inquiry for questioning about the ban.
“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,” Hanson-Young said.
“Where is the public media regulator in all this?
“ACMA appears to be sitting on its hands while a tech giant upholds standards the government regulator doesn’t seem to have."
In a statement to Information Age, ACMA said it has received 23 complaints about Sky News's coverage of COVID-19 since early 2020, including seven from a broadcast in mid-July and is monitoring Sky in accordance with "consistent with the co-regulatory scheme" for commercial broadcast licensees.
"The ACMA is monitoring Sky’s response to ongoing community concerns about its coverage, as well as whether the current code provisions and the way they are managed by broadcasters are adequate," ACMA said.
"Digital platforms such as YouTube are not currently subject to the same co-regulatory arrangements as Australia’s traditional broadcast media.
"In this case, YouTube has made its decision to suspend Sky News according to its own policies for its platform."
YouTube’s COVID-19 misinformation policy has been internationally criticised for pushing scientific information in a top-down manner and stifling debate on issues like alternative treatments and vaccine efficacy.
The guidelines say YouTube doesn’t allow videos that contradict “local health authorities’ or the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) medical information about COVID-19”.
Taboo topics include contrary information around treatment, prevention, diagnosis, transmission, social distancing rules, and the existence of COVID-19.