In summary

Last week YouTube suspended Sky News Australia from uploading new videos for a week, saying it had breached its policy on COVID-19 misinformation. But is it too little too late? Opinion for The Canberra Times by Belinda Barnet, Swinburne University of Technology.

In the same week that Sky News launched its new 24-hour free-to-air channel to 7 million regional Australians, it wants you to believe it has been unfairly silenced by Big Tech. This is a bit rich, coming from the premium channel on Australia's largest pay TV service - a channel that reaches more than a third of the Australian population if we are to believe Sky's own figures.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, on Thursday suspended Sky News Australia from uploading new videos for a week, saying it had breached its policy on COVID-19 misinformation. It also issued a "strike" under Google's three-strike policy; if Sky gets three strikes in 90 days it is permanently suspended from the platform.

For the last 18 months of this pandemic, Sky has been conveying a near-continuous "debate" about the efficacy of masks and lockdowns to its audience on programs such as Alan Jones's Sky At Night and Andrew Bolt's Bolt Report. Sky was forced to issue an apology earlier this month after broadcasting a segment in which Alan Jones and MP Craig Kelly questioned whether the Delta strain was as deadly as the original - and whether vaccines would actually help.

The fact that YouTube has singled out a few of these videos in the Sky archive and decided that they might be conveying misinformation is too little, too late in my opinion. They'll be back next week, serving up more scintillating "debates" about science that is well established and public health measures that are designed to combat the pandemic.

What is most predictable about all this is not that Sky claims its hosts didn't actually deny the existence of COVID-19 (that is perhaps the only fact they haven't questioned), it's that they have painted themselves the victim of a conspiracy against conservative media by Big Tech.

Sky News editor Jack Houghton wrote an article on Monday claiming the ban was an attack on free speech and "freedom of debate", citing article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for good measure. Not only this, but YouTube's "approach to policing debate around COVID-19 policies appears arbitrarily focused against conservative voices".

Perhaps it's because these same conservative voices are more prone spreading misinformation during the pandemic. Scientific facts like the efficacy of mask-wearing in preventing the spread of airborne viruses or whether vaccines work against the Delta strain are not actually "debates". There are no two sides to the science, as there might be in a political story. There's just what has been proven, and then there's a group of people who are actually wrong about that.

The problem is, Sky News takes the people who are wrong about that and broadcasts their opinion to 7 million Australians. It manufactures debate where there is none. Then it puts its back catalogue on YouTube for 1.86 million subscribers.

YouTube has decided it isn't going to ignore some of Sky's more egregious "debates" about the facts anymore, and it has pulled some videos and issued a strike. Good on them. Imagine if the Australian Communications and Media Authority did the same and decided to strengthen and enforce its rules on harmful content being broadcast to Australians during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the TV channel that is supposedly being silenced by Big Tech is extending its voice into a rather large Australian regional market.

On Monday, Sky News launched their new 24-hour free-to-air channel, after striking deals with Win and Southern Cross Austereo. They'll be offering up an around-the-clock feed of important "debates" from the likes of Peta Credlin, Alan Jones, and Andrew Bolt to regional markets across Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, and NSW from this week.

If viewers from Wollongong to Wagga Wagga are not yet familiar with the COVID-19 "scaremongering" our health authorities are engaging in, or how the media and big pharma are "feeding us untruths" about the pandemic, they soon will be. Alan Jones is about to enter their lounge rooms on Sky At Night and explain all this in great detail.

If regional viewers miss any of these important programs, they can always go to the YouTube channel back catalogue - it will be reinstated by Thursday next week as though all this had never happened. Silence is golden.

This article is republished from The Canberra Times under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article

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