Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia faces a parliamentary inquiry next week for posting videos on YouTube that breached the streaming company’s Covid-19 misinformation policy.
Last week YouTube suspended the broadcaster for seven days from uploading content, which critics claim could undermine public health measures, such as vaccinations and wearing masks.
YouTube and Australia’s media regulator have also been called to the senate hearing over the broadcasts.
Health officials will give evidence about the dangers of Covid-19 misinformation amid an outbreak of the fast spreading Delta variant that has prompted authorities to lock down 16 million Australians.
“Murdoch’s Sky News promotes itself as a news service,” Sarah Hanson-Young, chair of the senate committee on media diversity, told the Financial Times. “Surely that brings with it licence requirements that what it broadcasts actually is news, in the public interest.
“If information is too dangerous for the internet, surely it’s too dangerous to be on our TV screens.”
The senate inquiry will be held as concern grows in Australia about the dominance of News Corp and its influence on politics, which some analysts warn is following the US towards deeper polarisation.
In April a petition calling for a public inquiry into Murdoch’s media empire, which was supported by Kevin Rudd, Australia’s former prime minister, gathered 500,000 signatures.
“This is the Fox News model. They aim to divorce a segment of the Australian population from reality,” Rudd told the FT, referring to the Murdoch-owned rightwing US news network.
“We are in the middle of a public health emergency, yet at the same time we have Murdoch through Sky News broadcasting lies about the nature of the pandemic, about vaccines and about various quack medicines.”
Rudd, who has been called to give evidence to the inquiry, alleged that Murdoch was trying to “Americanise the politics of Australia” through Sky News.
Prominent Sky commentators have accused YouTube of censoring free speech and Tucker Carlson, the prominent Fox News commentator in the US, said Australia was turning into a “Covid dictatorship”.
‘Foxification of Sky News Australia’
Sky News Australia broadcasts on subscription and free to air television. It has established a prominent YouTube channel, which has 1.8 million subscribers. By day it is mainly a rolling news channel, but in the evening it features a stable of rightwing “shock jock” style commentators.
Rodney Tiffen, a professor at University of Sydney and author of Rupert Murdoch: A Reassessment, said the “Foxification of Sky News Australia” had transformed a mainstream news broadcaster into one that preached a blend of intolerance and certainty to an older demographic.
YouTube has confirmed it removed several videos from Sky News Australia for breaching its Covid-19 medical misinformation policies and issued a strike against the broadcaster. Any YouTube channel which receives three strikes in a 90-day period for violating its video policies is permanently removed.
Sky News said it “expressly rejected” that any of its hosts had denied the existence of Covid-19, as was initially implied by YouTube’s response to local media requests. “No such videos were ever published or removed,” it said.
News Corp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Acma, Australia’s media regulator, said it had received 23 complaints about Sky’s coverage of the pandemic since the beginning of 2020. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021