The Youtube channel of left-wing news website Novara Media was briefly taken down “without warning or explanation”.
The action echoes the sudden removal of right-leaning Talkradio’s channel earlier this year. On that occasion the page was restored within 24 hours.
Novara’s channel was seemingly removed on Tuesday morning for around two hours.
Users who tried to access the page were shown a message saying it had been “terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy against spam, deceptive practices, and misleading content or other Terms of Service violations”.
As of 1.30pm on Tuesday the channel, which has 166,000 subscribers, was back online.
Two hours later a Youtube spokesperson issued a statement admitting it made “the wrong call”.
“Novara Media’s channel was briefly removed after it was flagged, but upon review, it was then immediately reinstated,” they said.
“We work quickly to review all flagged content, but with millions of hours of video uploaded on YouTube every day, on occasion we make the wrong call.”
The company added that 400 hours of video is uploaded to Youtube every minute and it relies on members of the public who know its community guidelines to flag content they consider to be in breach. “Occasionally, a video flagged by users or identified by our spam team is mistakenly taken down,” it said.
Novara had said the channel had been “deleted without warning or explanation” and claimed it was among the top 50 news and politics channels on the platform in the UK.
“We play an important public service role and regularly feature interviews with politicians, human rights campaigners, scientists and activists from around the world.”
Aaron Bastani, who co-founded Novara ten years ago, said the action had been taken “with no explanation or due process by Youtube”.
“Novara Media is regulated by Impress and we take our responsibilities as journalists very seriously. This outrageous decision must be overturned,” he said.
Michael Walker, who hosts Novara’s news and political livestreams on Youtube, claimed the channel’s videos were viewed 1.8m times in the past 28 days, amounting to 64,000 views per day. He said the videos had covered the climate crisis, coronavirus pandemic and held the Government to account.
“We have made ourselves a key part of the UK’s media ecology,” he said. “Now a US tech giant deletes us without warning or proper explanation. It’s a threat to democracy.”
Walker told Owen Jones’ Youtube channel that Novara was “very confident” it had not shared misinformation that could have “disastrous consequences”.
Labour MP Richard Burgon asked: “What on earth is going on Youtube? I ask this as an elected Member of the UK Parliament. Novara Media is an important platform for left journalism and discussion. It shouldn’t be shut down.”
Sam Tarry, another Labour MP, said the decision was “nothing short of an attack on freedom of speech” and that Youtube should be “ashamed of itself”.
Spectator editor Fraser Nelson said the move was “very worrying” and that it “underlines the power wielded by Silicon Valley firms who now hold huge power over the political debate”.
Right-wing blog Guido Fawkes similarly extended support to Novara despite their political differences. It said: “Despite obvious political differences between Guido and Novara, if that is true it is manifestly wrong for them to have been silenced by YouTube. As it was when TalkRadio’s channel was deleted back in January.”
At the time, Google said Talkradio’s Youtube channel had been suspended as it quickly removes flagged content that violates community guidelines, in this case material relating to Covid-19 that contradicts expert consensus.
But it reinstated the channel, saying there were exceptions for “material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose”.
Then-Media Minister John Whittingdale told the Oxford Media Convention in July that the Talkradio removal from Youtube in January was the result of an interview with a Covid denier, even though they had been challenged on-air.
He said this, and a later incident in which The Sun was sanctioned for putting up a speech from Donald Trump in which he shared false claims of voter fraud as fact, would be protected under a journalistic exemption in the planned Online Safety Bill.
Whittingdale said: “That is an area where we are in discussion but the Sun would rightly be covered by journalistic content [exemptions]. Whether or not they should have qualified it is another matter but they should have that protection.”
He added: “These are not theoretical cases. It is actually happening where journalistic content is being taken down by platforms and so the importance of having that protection is very clear.”
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