Youtube reinstated the channel of News UK’s Talkradio on Tuesday evening after being accused of “censorship”.
On Tuesday morning, visitors to Talkradio’s Youtube page were informed that its account had been “terminated for violating Youtube’s community guidelines”. No further explanation was provided.
At around 7.30pm, Talkradio revealed it had “not yet received any explanation about what aspect of the guidelines it is alleged that we have breached”. It said the action by Google-owned Youtube “sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate”.
Shortly before 8pm, Talkradio shared a new statement from Youtube, announcing that its channel had been reinstated.
The Google/ Youtube statement said: “Talkradio’s Youtube channel was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated.
“We quickly remove flagged content that violate our community guidelines, including Covid-19 content that explicitly contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization.
“We make exceptions for material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose, as was deemed in this case.”
Ofcom-regulated Talkradio, which describes itself as the “home of free speech”, live-streams a video feed from its studios on its Youtube page and posts specific programmes and clips.
In September, Talkradio’s Friday drivetime presenter and stand-up comedian Mark Dolan went viral for protesting against the wearing of face masks to stop the spread of Covid-19 by cutting one up live on air.
Earlier on Tuesday, Talkradio breakfast presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer quizzed Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on whether he endorsed “censorship” by big tech companies against people having a “free and full debate” on Government policy.
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 from Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, to Peter Hitchens, the distinguished Mail on Sunday columnist, and others, and long may it remain so.
“I respectfully disagree with them but I think it’s important that their voices are heard and that debate takes place.”
“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
Hartley-Brewer later tweeted that no one at the station “has ever endangered any lives or worked against the NHS”.
She added: “Free speech, debate and questioning policies that destroy lives, livelihoods and freedoms are a good thing.”
Youtube’s Covid-19 misinformation policy, published in May, bans any content relating to the pandemic that contradicts medical information issued by local authorities or the World Health Organisation.
This could include lockdown-sceptic content that disputes the efficacy of official guidance on physical distancing or self-isolation measures.
The tech company warns that creators who violate the policy will receive a warning and have the offending content removed. It says pages with no prior offences will receive a warning with no penalty; after this they will get three strikes before their channel is taken down.
Civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch had dubbed Youtube’s decision to terminate the channel a “bold censorship move that would make China proud”.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it was a “worrying turn of events” and reiterated concerns over “the ability of the digital giants to censor genuine news and debate carried by the mainstream media”.
“In discussions on the government’s proposed Online Harms legislation, for instance, we were given assurances the digital platforms would not be able to act in this way, however now we have a recognised and regulated mainstream news radio station being silenced.
“The Society welcomes the comments this morning from Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove that censorship is not acceptable and calls on the government to urge YouTube to reinstate Talkradio.”
Ofcom, which regulates TV and radio content in the UK including Talkradio, has also pledged to crack down on Covid-19 misinformation that could cause serious harm, including fast-tracking complaints about such content.
No Talkradio content about Covid-19 has been subject to investigation by Ofcom, nor has the regulator made any rulings against the station this year.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “This was a decision for Youtube. Like other UK stations, Talkradio’s radio channel comes under our Broadcasting Code.
“When we assess programmes under our rules, we take account of a broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, and the right of listeners to receive information and ideas.”
News UK is currently gearing up to launch its first TV channel, which is also expected to be right-leaning in the style of Fox News in the US. It will have competition from GB News, a rival planned station now headed up by Andrew Neil.