Sky News Australia has denied broadcasting Covid misinformation, telling a parliamentary hearing that YouTube’s removal of 23 videos of the broadcaster was “totalitarian” and lacking in transparency.
Chief executive officer Paul Whittaker told the media diversity inquiry it “now appears commonplace to discredit any debate on contentious issues as ‘misinformation’” and vigorously defended Sky’s right to present a range of views on treatments such as ivermectin.
“Most of those videos concerning the YouTube policy breaches were reflecting a discussion that was taking place in the scientific and medical community worldwide, and amongst health practitioners and lawmakers both in this country and overseas,” Whittaker said.
A former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the Australian, Whittaker revealed Sky News had commissioned a documentary examining climate change and the zero net emissions issue.
“We don’t deny climate change, I accept climate change is happening,” Whittaker said. “The question is, what is the solution?
“What is the cost? As I explained it’s not a costless exercise. As a media organisation, it’s our role to hold governments of different persuasions to account because these policies and decisions have an impact on ordinary Australians in terms of industry jobs and household finances.”
Whittaker said he spoke infrequently with co-executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch but he was a non-executive director and he did not run Sky News.
Murdoch declined the committee’s invitation to appear and flew out of Sydney for the US on Sunday to re-open Fox News offices.
Whittaker revealed that he had “self-censored” an additional 18 videos which questioned the public health response to Covid-19 because it “only takes one for us to have another suspension” and be banned from YouTube permanently.
Asked by committee chair, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, if he accepted that Sky News had directly or indirectly promoted misinformation about Covid, Whittaker said no.
Alan Jones had “strong opinions” and was a popular broadcaster of 35-years, but he had made a couple of mistakes which had been corrected, he said.
Jones, 80, has consistently criticised Australia’s response to Covid-19, which he argues is no worse than the flu for healthy people and has called the NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant “dumb” and “out of touch” and suggested she is a village idiot.
In July Sky News removed and apologised for a segment broadcast on 12 July which included an interview with MP Craig Kelly in which he claimed that UK data showed the Delta variant was no more deadly and the death rate among the vaccinated was higher than the unvaccinated.
Whittaker agreed with Liberal senator Alex Antic who asked if he was “concerned that the political and cultural elites that are now pulling the strings of big tech companies are effectively censoring free speech”.
“That to me sounds more like a mentality of a totalitarian state than a liberal democracy,” Whittaker said.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd told the inquiry he wanted a royal commission into Murdoch in Australia and News Corp was a threat to democracy because it was following the model of Fox News in the US which has damaged American democracy.
“The Murdoch media empire in Australia has viciously campaigned for the conservative side of politics in 23 of the last 23 federal and state elections,” Rudd said. “That was not the case prior to 2010. News Corp has changed, it has moved from the centre right to the far right.”
Google executives Lucinda Longcroft and Samantha Yorke earlier addressed the inquiry which is examining YouTube’s suspension of Sky News Australia for a week for breaching its Covid-19 misinformation policy.
Longcroft told Hanson-Young a total of 23 Sky News videos were removed, the majority due to the violation of its Covid-19 misinformation policy and two were removed due to violations of the platform’s election integrity policy. She said Sky had been warned in December that some of its content was in breach.
Whittaker, who said YouTube was unaccountable and owned by a foreign entity, later conceded under questioning from Labor senator Kim Carr that News Corp Australia and Sky News were also owned by a foreign entity.
“Sky News has proudly served the nation for 25 years to deliver public interest journalism and a diverse range of news, opinion, and investigative programming,” Whittaker said. “Like all live news channels, we strive to always get it right. When mistakes are made, we correct them.”