Update, Youtube reverse ferret, reinstate TalkRadio
19 hours after taking down the entire TalkRadio feed, and after heavyweight, and other, media and political pressure, not to mention the veiled threat of legal action from Rupert Murdoch’s lawyers YouTube have reinstated the TalkRadio feed on their platform.
TalkRadio had demanded some response after the simple “termination” by YouTube,
“talkRADIO has not yet received any explanation about what aspect of the guidelines it is alleged that we have breached. The channel is still removed by Google / YouTube. A spokesman for talkRADIO said:
“YouTube is making decisions about which opinions the public are allowed to hear, even when they are sourced to responsible and regulated news providers.
“This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.”“
No response to this was given, but at 19.00 GMT YouTube made a spectacular reverse ferret.
“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.”
There seems to be quite a chasm between termination (permanent) and brief suspension that they are bow claiming, and the individual posts amongst thousands of hours of content have not been specified.
Whilst all those that support the freedom of speech can breathe a sigh of relief, and one wonders which woke YouTube functionary is now feeling very embarrassed (though no doubt on full pay and the toast of the beanbag room, the simple fact that this happened at all is a terrifying precedent.
It has been 2,500 years since the universal truth was first formulated. That truth is the first casualty of war. The great playwright and father of tragedy, Aeschylus would have recognised what is happening with the distribution of information over Covid, though as a veteran of both the battle of Marathon and of Salamis, he may well doubt that we are, in fact, at war.
But as a great propagandist for the Athenian cause, and the first person to set contemporary events into fiction with his portrayal of the Persian wars in 472BC, he would understand the singular power of the tech giants, and Google/YouTube in particular.
The ability of the tech behemoths to skew public opinion is well attested, and of all the tech giant’s reach in the UK, the reach of YouTube is pre-eminent. In the most recent comprehensive study by Statista, 78% of active internet users report using it. Access to YouTube is therefore vital to marketers, and most importantly, news organisations. For YouTube to summarily ban a news provider from its platform is, therefore, a matter of great concern.
Last night (4/01/2020) it did just that. In the moments after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown, a lockdown with no defined exit point, the only national news network prepared to strike a note of lockdown scepticism, TalkRadio, was banned from Google’s video subsidiary.
TalkRadio, is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News UK and the most reliably centre-right platform in a market dominated by the state/corporatist approach of the BBC and other players, (one the independent LBC last year no-platformed one of its star presenters, Nigel Farage for questioning the sanctity of the BLM movement). Talk Radio is a minnow in the market, as the most recent statistics make clear.
According to these figures, the BBC has, overall, 49% of all radio listeners, with a listenership of 33.5m people, TalkRadio in comparison has 0.3% of the market with 424,000 listeners. But to its credit it has been making waves and had seen a 25% increase in these figures over the previous year. Its roster of presenters is of good quality and it has no difficulty in getting high ranking ministers and others to appear as regular guest interviewees.
But what it does do, unlike the BBC and others, is to encourage a wide plurality of views, both from its interviewees and particularly from its public call-ins.
Given that under current polling figures, 16% of the population can be generally regarded as lockdown sceptics, and with a population is 67 million, that means that upwards of 10 million fellow citizens are publicly uncomfortable with the stringent methods being used by the Government to tackle Covid. Probably many more are so privately, given the general compliance with the lockdown rules.
As a Radio station, TalkRadio welcomes the contrary point of view, but disputes YouTube’s justification that the radio station violates its community guidelines. YouTube says that “A YouTube channel is terminated if it accrues three Community Guidelines strikes in 90 days, or is determined to be wholly dedicated to violating our guidelines.”
Questioning Government policy on the severity of the lockdowns can in no way be described as that.
Michael Gove a senior Conservative Government Minister described the move as ‘censorship’ this morning on the station, saying,
'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. I respectfully disagree with them, but I think it's important that their voices are heard and that debate takes place.'
Gove is one of several public figures that have criticised the decision, but recent polling suggests that the appetite of the public for this act, and even more serve restrictions on freedom of speech make chilling reading for anybody concerned with liberty.
The problem is, so immured are we to government by dictat, and so frightened have we become through the ongoing and bloodcurdling pronouncements of the public health industry that we are beginning to resemble a giant Milgram experiment, constantly twisting the dial to administer ever more sharp doses of shocks, while blaming our masters for doing so. .
There are more and more worrying signs that free speech and democracy are under threat in the UK. According to Kings College/Ipsos Mori study in December, 67% of the population support financial penalties being imposed on social media companies who do not censor their platforms.
This approach is best summed up by Paul Mason, a veteran socialist economic commentator and former BBC Economics editor (and author of the ironically titled new book, How to stop Fascism) who tweeted,
“I don't just want Johnson to say "Stay home, save lives" etc. I want him to call out and ridicule the bullshit anti-maskers, lockdown skeptics and denialists in his own party - and order social media platforms to suppress/label Covid disinformation. That's leadership.”
Why does this matter so much? Freedom of speech is essential to democracy. To make an error is not a crime, nor should it be.
We are living in a time that the Prime Minister can announce new rules, that are policed by increasingly onerous sanctions and fines instantly, as he did yesterday, yet leave the debate about them to a couple of days later, after they have been enforced. Worse still, it is clear that in the coming weeks we will find that a series of elections planned for this war will not go ahead. These elections are not national ones but are important nonetheless. They include the parliaments in Scotland and in Wales and the election of city mayors, including the powerbase of London.
To block dissenting news platforms, to impose legislation without debate, and then, as I suspect to postpone (as they did last year) elections with no defined resumption, does not suggest that we are still living in a functional democracy. Aeschylus would recognise that too.
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