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How Sky News found itself on YouTube's banned list with virus stories

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Pandemic misinformation broadcast by Sky News Australia is amongst thousands of Australian videos removed from YouTube for code violations.

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Testifying to a federal parliamentary inquiry on Monday, Sky News boss Paul Whittaker has slammed YouTube as “frankly ridiculous”.

“Why do they get to decide what is and isn’t news?”

YouTube owner Google said the Sky News videos that were taken down included hosts and guests denying that COVID-19 is a pandemic and the promotion of drugs ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as “cures”.

Whittaker said it was in the public interest that the drugs were discussed, particularly last year when there were no vaccines available.

“It’s a scientific debate that continues to this day,” he said.

Whittaker denied accusations that he had prevented news hosts from giving evidence at the hearing, saying it was ‘their personal decision’.

Committee chair Senator Sarah Hanson-Young also grilled Google on the “COVID lies” she said Sky News had been spreading for more than a year, including on social media.

Google enforces its own COVID-19 misinformation code and has worked with health and media authorities in Australia to combat false and harmful claims about the pandemic, vaccines and “cures”.

“Where there are videos that, without further context, assert that those drugs [ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine] are effective we remove them because of the danger and medical harm that could be caused to users,” Google Australia spokeswoman Lucinda Longcroft said.

More than 5000 “dangerous and misleading” videos traced to an Australian IP address were removed from YouTube between February 2020 and March 2021, including 23 YouTube videos posted by Sky News Australia.

Longcroft said most of the Sky News items were removed due to violations of a COVID-19 misinformation code and two as violations of political integrity.

“They have been permanently deleted,” she said.

Whittaker said there were no public complaints about them, and no action has been taken by the media regulator.

The company also removed a “batch” of 2020 videos voluntarily.

Whittaker said he requested multiple times to ensure historic material would not be subject to YouTube bans, but no such reassurance was received.

“Sky News’ removal of content is not an admission of failure to comply with YouTube’s policies, merely an attempt to navigate its opaque policies,” he said.

He rejected a call for a royal commission.

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