YouTube has reinstated TalkRadio’s channel on its platform hours after saying it had been “terminated” for breaking the tech firm’s rules.
It said the broadcaster had posted material that contradicted expert advice about the coronavirus pandemic.
But it explained its U-turn saying it sometimes made exceptions to guidelines that state repeat offenders face a permanent ban.
TalkRadio said it had yet to be given a full explanation for the affair.
The decision to ban TalkRadio had appalled digital rights campaigners, with one group – Big Brother Watch – claiming it was evidence that “big tech censorship is spiralling out of control”.
TalkRadio stated: “TalkRadio is an Ofcom-licensed and regulated broadcaster and has robust editorial controls in place, taking care to balance debate.
“We regularly interrogate government data and we have controls in place, use verifiable sources and give space to a careful selection of voices and opinions.”
The YouTube a Google-owned service has issued a brief statement explaining its actions.
“TalkRadio’s YouTube channel was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated,” it said.
“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.”
The decision was reversed around 12 hours later, with YouTube saying the channel “was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated”.
TalkRADIO, which has 420,000 listeners, is already subject to strict balance rules set by the UK’s tough broadcast watchdog, Ofcom.
The platform has a specific set of policies around medical misinformation related to Covid. At least two of the station’s hosts, Mark Dolan and Julia Hartley-Brewer, regularly speak out against lockdown policies both on and off-air.
“This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.”
The broadcaster tweeted the statement minutes after YouTube’s change of heart. It did not appear to be aware that its channel had been reinstated at the time, but has since acknowledged the move.
YouTube – A second statement from talkRADIO.— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) January 5, 2021
Listen live on DAB or online ► https://t.co/mcJAlihYJm
Watch live on Facebook ► https://t.co/VPlZPtbi9m
Watch live on Twitter ► https://t.co/5JccfkV81n pic.twitter.com/tlKS2CVOyZ
Shortly after news of the suspension broke, the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, appeared on Hartley-Brewer’s show, and spoke out in defence of TalkRadio’s right to criticise the government.
“I don’t believe in censorship and we have a free and fair press, and we have commentators and interviewers of distinction who do criticise the government’s position,” Gove said, “From Lord Sumption to Peter Hitchens and others, and long may it remain so. I think it’s absolutely right that people should ask questions.”
YouTube’s definition of medical misinformation, while similar to that of competitors such as Facebook and Twitter, has drawn criticism in its own right.
Commentators have noted that the rule prevents criticism of organisations that have themselves changed their advice – in some cases significantly – over the course of the pandemic.
In March 2020, for instance, many tech platforms classed as misinformation claims that mask-wearing could help prevent the spread of Covid; now, those same tech platforms class as misinformation the claim that mask-wearing does not help prevent the spread of Covid. In both cases, statements from local and international health authorities lay behind the decision.
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.”
The row came despite years of scandals sparked by extreme content hosted by YouTube, including terror videos.