Sky News Australia suspended from YouTube over new Covid rules

·3 min read

Sky News Australia has been banned for a week from uploading videos to Youtube after it was accused of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sky News Australia channel on YouTube received a "strike" over "numerous" video clips, including "content that denies the existence of Covid-19," the video platform said.

It means that the broadcaster is blocked from publishing videos on YouTube for seven days, and will be permanently banned from the platform if it receives a second and third strike in future.

The ban reflects how hugely popular social media websites such as Youtube are increasingly taking steps to tackle misinformation published by high-profile users such as celebrities and broadcasters.

And it could be followed by major UK media outlets receiving similar bans if they are accused of misleading Youtube viewers about coronavirus.

In a statement on Sunday, Sky News Australia said it respected the decision and hoped to go back online in the near future.

"Sky News Australia acknowledges YouTube's right to enforce its policies and looks forward to continuing to publish its popular news and analysis content to its subscribers shortly," a spokesman said.

The 24-hour cable and television channel, which claims to have 1.85 million YouTube subscribers, is operated by Australian News Channel Pty Ltd and is a subsidiary of News Corp Australia.

YouTube, owned by Alphabet Inc's Google, has confirmed the suspension.

"We apply our policies equally for everyone 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," a YouTube spokesperson said.

Australian media reported that the one-week suspension came after a review of Sky News Australia content that denied the existence of Covid-19 or encouraged people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin to treat the coronavirus. A YouTube spokesman told the Guardian that the video clips on hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin would have been allowed if "sufficient countervailing context" had been provided by the uploader.

They added that "we don’t allow content that denies the existence of Covid-19."

Videos by Sky News Australia that did not violate Youtube's misinformation policies and were published before Thursday remain on the site.

It is not the first time that an Australian media outlet has run into choppy waters over its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Australia's Daily Telegraph - which is unaffiliated with the UK Daily Telegraph - axed a column by the anti-lockdown writer Alan Jones after he called an Australian health official a "village idiot."

Mr Jones has frequently criticised the Australian government's use of lockdowns and its wider response to coronavirus, arguing that the disease is no worse than flu.

The Australian Daily Telegraph's publisher, News Corp Australia, is said to have told Mr Jones it supported him as a journalist but felt his articles no longer "resonated" with readers.

Australia appears to be entering a third wave of coronavirus, with the number of new cases per day rising from fewer than 10 in May to more than 200 in July.

To date, 923 people have died of coronavirus in Australia, a relatively low number of deaths which has been linked to the country sealing its borders at the start of the pandemic.

The Australian government has said it is prepared to reopen its borders once 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

However, only 14 per cent of the population has received two jabs, raising the prospect of the borders being closed for many more months due to a slow uptake in inoculations.

"I believe we can get there by the end of the year," Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said on Friday. "The timelines are now in the hands of all Australians”.