Google-owned video platform YouTube has deleted the channel for the British nationwide radio station talkRADIO, prompting observers to speculate the company had moved to do so because the station routinely questions the efficacy of the coronavirus lockdowns.
Update 2330 — Google Backs Down
Britain’s talkRADIO is back on YouTube as of Tuesday night, after the platform appeared to have a sudden change of heart. Veteran host James Whale — perhaps Britain’s best known talk radio host — announced the news during his show live with the remark “ladies and gentlement, we are back”.
The network published the statement they received from YouTube, which implied that while the tech firm had decided talkRADIO had indeed broken their rules, nevertheless they had decided the channel would be exempt from the rules as it constituted work with a “educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose”.
talkRADIO’s YouTube channel was briefly suspended but upon further review, has now been reinstated.
We quickly remove flagged content that violate out Community Guidelines, including COVID-19 content that explicitly contradict expert concensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organisation.
We make exceptions for material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose, as was deemed in this case.”
YouTube has reversed its decision to ban talkRADIO.
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) January 5, 2021
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The Google-owned video streaming platform deleted the channel in the early hours of Tuesday morning, just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would be entering into another national lockdown.
Westminster political gossip blog Guido Fawkes reported that YouTube merely stated that the channel was “terminated for violating YouTube’s community guidelines”. The ban follows a number of other censures by the Google-owned video platform during the coronavirus period, including ascendant U.S. broadcaster OAN.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned radio station is broadcast under Digital Audio Broadcasting rules in the UK and therefore governed by the British broadcasting regulator Ofcom, which sets the standards for acceptable content on airwaves in the country.
While Talk Radio — which is one of the oldest commercial radio stations in the UK — has had breaches of the broadcast code enforced against it by Ofcom before, no present investigatgions are listed on the regulator’s website, suggesting YouTube’s actions are not acting over a breach of UK law. A government minister interviewed by the station on Tuesday morning, after the ban, spoke in defence of “free and fair press” and against censorship.
Prior to its deletion, talkRADIO’s YouTube channel had a quarter of a million subscribers and had accumulated tens of millions of views on the platform.
The station has increasingly become critical of the government’s draconian lockdown measures and has frequently hosted interviews of lockdown sceptics, prompting some to claim that the station’s opposition to government lockdowns was the motivating factor for YouTube’s decision to remove the channel.
The company’s Covid-19 guidelines, which were set in place in May of last year, state: “YouTube 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.”
Bannable offences include:
- Content that discourages people from consulting a medical professional or seeking medical advice.
- Content that promotes diagnostic methods that contradict local health authorities or WHO.
- Content that disputes the efficacy of local health authorities’ or WHO’s guidance on physical distancing or self-isolation measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
On Tuesday morning, talkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewerdenied that anyone on the channel had violated the rules, saying: “No one on talkRADIO has said ANY of those things. We simply challenge the evidence that lockdowns are a proportionate response to the Covid virus. It’s called free speech.”
COVID Censorship: 80 Per Cent of Brits Back Criminalising ‘Anti-Vax’ Posts https://t.co/hDs4dKr1cr
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) November 16, 2020
Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch said that the move by YouTube was a “bold censorship move that would make China proud,” adding that it “is an assault on free expression [and] must be overturned.”
Australian writer and lawyer Helen Dale said: “Everyone laughed when it was wingnuts like Alex Jones getting banned. Now we’re seeing it done to perfectly boring, Ofcom-regulated UK talkRADIO. Who’s next? LBC? They’re a bit ‘edgy’. YouTube are a menace.”
“If YouTube has an editorial policy, then it should be treated as a publisher in law. At the moment it is not, while the BBC, Times, LBC, Speccie, Grauniad and, yes, talkRADIO all are. I realise this would kill social media stone dead, but that would be no bad thing,” she added.
The deputy editor at the British libertarian magazine Spiked, Tom Slater described the move by YouTube as “one of the most chilling examples of Big Tech censorship yet.”
Slater noted that talkRADIO is a “mainstream radio station” which interviews members of the government every day.
“We essentially have Silicon Valley oligarchs deciding the fate of British radio stations on the basis of their editorial decisions. Government needs to respond to this,” he demanded.
Appearing on talkRADIO on Tuesday morning, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said: “I don’t believe in censorship, we have a free and fair press and we have commentators and interviewers of distinction who do criticise the government’s position… and long may it remain so.”
Mr Gove did not reveal whether the UK government would take any action against the America tech-giant for censoring a British radio station.
Breitbart news reported in November when Google-owned Youtube took apparently similar action over One America News Network (OAN), lately a favourite of U.S. President Trump, demonetising their video content and banning new uploads. A Youtube spokesman said OAN had violated the companies coronavirus policies.
OAN said at the time: “YouTube took the extreme action of censoring a national cable news network for a video that was ‘unlisted’ and not available publicly on YouTube… Although OAN will abide by YouTube’s requirements for any video made available on YouTube, OAN will not let YouTube’s arbitrary rules infringe upon its First Amendment editorial rights to inform the public.”
“I don’t believe in censorship.”
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove tells Julia on talkRADIO that big tech companies should not censor those who question the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic: "It's important their voices are heard."@JuliaHB1 | @michaelgove pic.twitter.com/j2skQCW8he
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) January 5, 2021
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