The fight for press freedom continues with Sky News Australia subjected to hours of questioning regarding its editorial choices.
Sky News Australia Chief Executive Paul Whittaker opened the Senate Inquiry into Media Diversity by rubbishing accusations that the network deliberately peddled Covid conspiracy theories. Whittaker called the assertion, ‘frankly ridiculous!’
The inquiry was put together by a Greens MP from the far-left minor party that routinely criticises Sky New Australia’s centre-right position. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young chaired the inquiry accompanied by Labor Senator Kim Carr.
Senator Hanson-Young’s topic of the day was ‘Covid-Lies’, an idea that she repeatedly used interchangeably with unresolved political subjects that remain the topic of global debate.
The inquiry unfolded in a politicised atmosphere set up by Sarah Hanson-Young, whose personal website features a ‘take action’ talking point devoted to attacking Murdoch media.
In an embarrassing move, Senator Hanson-Young blocked Rebel News journalists Alexandra Marshall and Avi Yemini from covering the inquiry online – apparently violating her devotion to media diversity.
Senator Hanson-Young’s specific complaint about Sky News Australia revolved around it being ‘allowed’ to discuss Ivermectin on-air as a potential treatment for Covid.
After failing to correctly pronounce Ivermectin repeatedly throughout her questions, the Senator eventually resorted to calling it ‘horse wormer’.
“Do you accept that Sky News has created and published content that is either directly or indirectly promoted disinformation about Covid and Covid-Lies in relation to restrictions, health measures, cures?” asked Hanson-Young.
Sky News Australia replied to the entire day's questioning with an official statement.
"We operate within the same legal framework as all media and are subject to both the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice.
"There is no evidence that Sky News breaches existing regulations or that the current regulatory framework is failing, or that further regulatory intervention is required.
"Indeed, it should be noted we have not been found in breach of the Codes of Practice for more than ten years."
As a major news network, Sky News Australia maintains that it involves a wide range of discussion involving scientists, epidemiologists, GPs, pharmacists, researchers, chief health officers, politicians, doctors, and bureaucrats.
"But it now appears commonplace to discredit any debate on contentious issues as 'misinformation'.
"So, the question becomes, why does a tech giant, YouTube, and faceless, nameless individuals backed by an algorithm, based in California, get to decide that holding governments and decision makers to account is 'misinformation'? Why do they get to decide what is and isn't allowed to be news?" added the official statement.
Despite insisting that Sky News Australia must only publish Covid information approved by the prime minister, state premiers, and the World Health Organisation – Senator Hanson-Young's comments about Ivermectin proved inaccurate against the facts.
Ivermectin was discovered in 1975 and won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015. Its discovery led to the creation of an entirely new class of drugs for human use treating diseases and parasites. The potential for Ivermectin to assist with treating Covid was discovered because hundreds of millions of people around the world were using it safely under full FDA approval.
Its entry into the Covid conversation was heavily politicised by the American election. Ivermectin remains the subject of peer-reviewed studies, ongoing trials, and experimental use around the world – none of which involve horse paste.
Australia’s own Monash University in alliance with the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity proved that Ivermectin could kill Covid within 48 hours under laboratory conditions.
Globally speaking, the discussion on Ivermectin is far from over, with its off-label use against Covid widespread in Africa and South America. Public health experts, medical scientists, and South African health practitioners have banded together in a campaign to achieve formal approval for its use. There are similar stories in the Philippines and Latin America.
The World Health Organisation officially added Ivermectin to accepted clinical trials in March of 2021.
Senator Young's main reasoning for wanting all discussion of Ivermectin banned was because it conflicted with official advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. It is difficult to find an example of this method being used to censor discussion on a media broadcaster.
Hospital admissions and injures associated with Ivermectin come from people consuming non-human approved animal treatments not the Ivermectin discussed in the studies. One could argue that governments banning the distribution of Ivermectin are the real cause behind these accidents.
Considering the 'Ivermectin topic' is central to both YouTube's strikes and the Senator's desire for stricter government regulation over the content of media broadcasters, it's essential that this narrative is examined.
Ivermectin was not the only glaring inaccuracy brandished by those accusing Sky News Australia of misleading the public.
Labor Senator Kim Carr questioned Whittaker over a petition asking for a Royal Commission into media diversity.
This turned out to be ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s e-petition of ‘over half a million signatures’. The petition was earlier revealed to be riddled with computer-generated signatures and fake names, accounting to Sky News host Sharri Markson’s earlier investigation.
“Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has used this petition to launch a media inquiry into two ASX-listed companies; News Corp Australia and Nine Entertainment, to have a whole Senate inquiry into the media industry, so this petition is being used as the basis for policy formation,” explained Sharri Markson.
The fake names on Rudd’s petition included ‘this sucks’, ‘Nacho cheese’, and ‘Jesus Christ’ which were generated by off-shore bot accounts.
The inaccuracy of the petition and its subsequent failure to trigger a Royal Commission was not mentioned at the inquiry.
The Inquiry into Media Diversity played out like a witch trial against Sky News Australia specifically.
Several Sky News Australia hosts declined to partake.
“There’s only one reason why I didn’t appear at today’s Senate hearing. I will not be party to a witch hunt, nor waste my time in the services of satisfying the paranoid fantasies of a failed former PM. The Senate Committee on Media Diversity came about as a result of a petition organised by former PM Kevin Rudd,” said Rita Panahi on Alan Jones.
Anti-Murdoch voices have waged campaigns to cancel the network for many years – including the use of anonymous online trolls to harass advertisers.
The situation did not become serious until YouTube issued a strike against the digital arm of the media empire in July of 2021.
YouTube is a commercial earner for Sky News Australia with almost two million subscribers. Three strikes in 90 days results in an immediate and permanent suspension of the account, regardless of size.
Sky News Australia was forced to remove twenty-three videos that allegedly violated YouTube’s policy on Covid misinformation. The videos included content up to a year old.
“Specifically, we don’t allow content that denies the existence of COVID-19 or that encourages people to use Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin to treat or prevent the virus. We do allow for videos that have sufficient countervailing context, which the violative videos did not provide,” said a statement from YouTube.
The majority of the content in question fell under the banner of ‘opinion’ rather than news, but YouTube did not provide any further clarity for their strike.
To be clear, YouTube’s policies are not a statement of absolute fact, but a compliance order to keep the material on their platform consistent with the health guidance from various authorities – even if this information is contested or later shown to be false. Strikes are not removed if health information changes.
Sky News Australia Chief Executive Paul Whittaker pointed this inconsistency out to the inquiry. Whittaker also strongly rejected the claim that Sky News Australia promoted an anti-vaccination narrative.
“Sky News Australia strongly supports vaccination. Any claims to the contrary are false and a blatant attempt to discredit and harm our news service,” said Whittaker.
When Lucinda Longcroft, Director of Public Policy, Google Australia and New Zealand was asked to provide examples of left-wing content removed by YouTube, she took the question on notice.
“Our Covid-19 misinformation policies are applied equally to all YouTube content and channel owners,” said Longcroft, but did not offer any data to prove the point.
It is a widely held opinion that YouTube applies its community standards unequally to users, with many conservative accounts taken down while fringe accounts – such as domestic terror group Antifa – remain up.
“YouTube’s actions make clear that it is not a neutral platform, but a publisher selectively broadcasting content and censoring certain views, while allowing videos that are patently false, misogynistic, and racist to proliferate. […] With no transparency provided, Sky News took the proactive approach of removing a batch of videos, all published during 2020, from online platforms to ensure ongoing compliance with YouTube’s arbitrary editorial guidelines,” Mr Whittaker added.
Social Media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become significant tools for political parties during election campaigns. As such, there is growing concern of foreign interference in Australian politics by these entities, especially when they brazenly remove elected members of parliament like Craig Kelly.
Platforms exist in a special legal limbo, where they are immune from prosecution regarding the third-party content they host on the proviso they refrain from engaging in publishing privileges. Under American Law, they are distinct from publishers and yet in the last few years they have made headlines for selective political censorship.
Whittaker insisted that the videos taken down by YouTube had no public complaints – which begs the question why they were flagged in the first place. He wrote to Google’s CEO in the hope of clarification, but received nothing in return, not even an acknowledgement of the query.
Australia’s media landscape has taken a bizarre path to this inquiry.
Chief among those leading the anti-Murdoch charge are full-time campaigner ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and occasional contributor ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. While the men come from opposing sides of politics, they share a history of unkind headlines enjoyed by readers at their expense.
The inquiry soon expanded to criticism regarding Sky News Australia allowing alternative discussion on Climate Change before accusing some of its hosts of racism.
This was swiftly followed by Hanson-Young asking Whittaker how many of his staff were female before elaborating that they were ‘rather young’. Her point was to suggest a power imbalance between young female producers and the more experienced network hosts.
Implying that young women are not capable of doing their jobs because of their age and gender is considered a sexist remark by most people. Whittaker was similarly bewildered by Hanson-Young’s line of questioning, pointing out that there is plenty of support for producers to do their jobs.
Inquiries are normally launched from an impartial basis so that the search for truth can be conducted without prejudice.
Sky News Australia has little hope of being treated fairly when several key people involved in the process have made it very public that they have a bone to pick with broadcaster.