YouTube labels government-funded news videos in Hong Kong

Sarah Zheng

Hong Kong has been added to YouTube’s list of regions where information panels are included on news channels that receive government funding.

Videos on YouTube from Chinese state media outlets now appear in Hong Kong with an information panel that says they are “funded in whole or in part by the Chinese government”.

The label was applied to content from state broadcaster CCTV and its English-language arm CGTN, as well as clips posted by state-run tabloid Global Times, state newspaper China Daily, and state news agency Xinhua.

Public broadcasters are also subject to the label, which has been applied to Hong Kong’s RTHK broadcast service and Britain’s public broadcaster the BBC. Content from Singapore’s ChannelNewsAsia is labelled as being part of Mediacorp, which belongs to state-owned Temasek Holdings.

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The YouTube information panels were first applied in the United States, Britain, India, Germany and France and have now been rolled out to Poland, Spain, Italy and Ireland, as well as Hong Kong.

The company said the panels, which include a link to the publisher’s Wikipedia page, were intended to provide “publisher context” to viewers.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, followed Facebook and Twitter last week in disabling accounts it said were acting in a “coordinated manner” to spread an alleged disinformation campaign linked to Hong Kong’s anti-government protests.

While Facebook and Twitter said they were suspending accounts with links to the Chinese government, YouTube did not directly point to a government link in announcing the suspension of 210 accounts from its platform, noting only that its findings were “consistent with recent observations and actions related to China”.

Analysts said the moves were the first time social media companies had taken action against alleged disinformation efforts from China, where state media outlets are tightly regulated and urged to “tell China’s story well” to their audiences.

Within China, there has been heavy censorship of and regulated access to information about the Hong Kong protests, with state media pumping out hawkish and misrepresentative reports and commentaries denouncing the protesters as “rioters”, including some outlets that have even likened the demonstrators to cockroaches and Nazis.

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In a statement on its site, YouTube said the information panel was “not a comment by YouTube on the publisher’s or video’s editorial direction, or on a government’s editorial influence”.

“This information panel providing publisher context is meant to give you additional information to help you better understand the sources of news content that you watch on YouTube,” it said, adding that the information provided was based on Wikipedia and unspecified independent third-party sources.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

In the US and South Korea, YouTube also adds information panels to channels to provide “topical context” from third-party sources on a few “well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation online, like the moon landing”.

Critics have said that social media platforms, including YouTube, have not done a sufficient job in countering misinformation, leaving them susceptible to manipulation by state actors.

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