Sky News Ban: Google Cracks Down on Murdoch Spreading COVID Misinformation

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Sky News

Yesterday saw the week-long ban on Sky News Australia from posting new content on YouTube come to an end.

This barring was significant for the right-wing broadcaster as, while its television audience is relatively small, its YouTube presence outstrips other major Australian television networks.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky News was suspended from the Google-owned social media site for spreading pandemic misinformation, which included encouraging the use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as COVID-19 treatments, as well as content denying the reality of the virus.

Six videos were taken down involving segments hosted by Alan Jones, Rowan Dean and Rita Panahi, which had involved advocating the pharmaceuticals as effective treatments, while Sky News set about removing a number of other potentially offending clips ahead of the lifting of the ban.

YouTube’s COVID Medical Misinformation Policy outlines that the site “doesn’t allow content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities’ or the World Health Organization’s (WHO) medical information about COVID-19”.

The social media giant has a three strike Community Guidelines Policy, which involves a week-long prohibition for breaching it after an initial warning, followed by a two week ban for a second breach within a 90 day period, and a third within that same timeframe means the page will be removed.

This latest development in the war between mainstream media and social media reverses the regular battle lines that usually see the more traditional news sources and conservative politicians accusing the rising online fifth estate of spreading misinformation that leads to conspiracies.

The conflict so far

At the behest of Rupert Murdoch, the Morrison government introduced legislation last December that was designed to ensure social media companies, like Google and Facebook, be required to pay the more traditional media outlets a fee for hosting their content on digital platforms.

The spiel was all about ensuring diversity within the Australian media landscape, despite the fact that the local sector has been heavily monopolised for decades, with Murdoch’s News Corp in possession of a premium slice of the pie.

And the proposal so irked the big tech companies that back in February, Facebook banned the sharing of all Australian news content for a week.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill 2021 – which established the now operating regime that requires tech platforms to pay media outlets to host their content – was passed on 25 February, leaving the question open as to whether other nations will follow suit.

The media wars continue

The reprimand from YouTube came just a day after the News Corp-owned Daily Telegraph dumped veteran broadcaster Alan Jones’ regular column from its publication due to his controversial COVID-19 and anti-lockdown statements.

But despite this apparent Murdoch reprimand, Jones remains a Sky News darling and will continue to propagate his contentious views from the television network, which is run by Rupert.

Indeed, former Australian PM Kevin Rudd has recently warned YouTube that Sky News is “breeding far-right extremism in Australia”.

The current Senate Committee inquiry into Media Diversity in Australia was set to call in all players from the latest controversy – Sky News, YouTube, Google and the Australian Communications and Media Authority – as early as Friday to investigate the matter.

“The obvious question is if the spread of misinformation isn’t allowed on the internet why is it on television broadcasts?” asked Senate Committee chair Sarah Hanson-Young in a statement.

“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?”

Images: “Jeremy Buckingham and Alan Jones” by Jeremy Buckingham is licensed under CC BY 2.0. “SKY NEWS” by Daniel Voyager is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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