The director-general of the World Health Organisation has backed Neil Young in his dispute with the music streaming giant Spotify for hosting the popular podcaster Joe Rogan, who has given a platform to anti-vax conspiracy theorists.

Young, 76, said that Rogan’s show spread harmful lies about vaccines and Covid-19 that put lives at risk.

In a tweet Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 56, thanked the veteran rock star “for standing up against misinformation and inaccuracies around #COVID19 vaccination”, adding: “Public and private sector, in particular social media platforms, media, individuals — we all have a role to play to end this pandemic and infodemic.”

His comments came as #deletespotify trended on social media, with many of Young’s fans and supporters of his stance calling for a boycott of the streaming platform.

The issue has proved divisive among musicians, however, with Dave Draiman, front man of the heavy metal band Disturbed, saying that he “applauded” Spotify for removing Young’s music.

Addressing Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive, he tweeted: “I applaud you and Spotify for making the RIGHT call, preserving #FreeSpeech and not capitulating to the mob. I may not agree with everything Joe Rogan or his guests say, but they’re entitled to have the forum to say it.”

Rogan, a stand-up comedian and TV personality, clarified last year that he was “not an anti-vax person” before airing an episode of his podcast that led to 270 doctors, scientists and healthcare professionals signing an open letter last month raising fears over his “concerning history” discussing the pandemic.

They asked the streaming giant to implement a policy for dealing with misinformation, citing his interview with Dr Robert Malone, a virologist who conducted early research into the mRNA technology behind several Covid-19 vaccines but later became critical of the treatments.

The open letter criticised both men for promoting conspiracy theories, including the false claim that hospitals were financially incentivised to falsely diagnose deaths as having been caused by Covid-19.

Rogan, who has an exclusive $100 million deal with Spotify, said: “I believe they’re safe and encourage many people to take them.”

He refused to back down on claims that young people did not “need” the vaccine but added that he should not be regarded as a source of scientific advice, saying: “I’m not a doctor . . . I’m not a respected source of information, even for me.”

Dr Malone was also criticised for wrongly stating that getting vaccinated put people who had already had Covid at higher risk. He claimed that world leaders had hypnotised the public into supporting vaccines, drawing parallels between the pandemic and the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany.

Meanwhile, the American radio station SiriusXM announced on Thursday that it was bringing Neil Young Radio back to its airwaves with a second limited run on the platform.

Young, whose music was being removed from Spotify last night, had warned the company that “they can have Rogan or Young. Not both” after reading the Covid experts’ letter.

His fans rallied behind the protest. Daryl Hannah, the American actress, and Kate Nash, the British singer, were among those who voiced support. “I really admire Neil Young for pulling his music from Spotify,” Nash said.

Margo Price, an American country singer, added: “If all artists were as punk rock as Neil Young maybe we wouldn’t be getting absolutely screwed by corporate streaming companies.”

Young’s decision was backed by his record labels, despite the singer describing it as a “costly move” because Spotify accounts for 60 per cent of his streaming revenue. His partners include Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a UK- listed investment company, which acquired 50 per cent of the rights to his 1,180-song catalogue last January.

Young is estimated to have earned $1.8 million from his ten most popular songs on Spotify, according to an analysis by The Times. Heart of Gold, his top track on the streaming service, has 236 million plays, making up to $873,000 for the artist.

Young’s tracks will remain on Apple Music, Amazon and other platforms, as well as the Neil Young Archives, his passion-project website and app. The archives have nearly 26,000 subscribers, who pay between $20 and $100 to access the service, meaning that it generates between £520,000 and £2.6 million in revenue. The UK is its second-largest market outside of the US.

Phil Baker, who runs the website, said that Young did not maintain the site for the money. Instead, it is a place where fans can listen to his music in “HD” quality and learn about the backstory to his tracks. This has been a previous bone of contention for Young with Spotify, which compresses audio files on its platform. “Rather than trying to create a physical archive in some museum, he really wanted to take advantage of the internet and create something that is open 24 hours a day around the world,” Baker said.

John Mulvey, editor of the music magazine Mojo, said that Young’s investment in his own platform had helped to put him in a strong position to take a moral stand against Spotify.

“He can make tough calls because he has been canny enough and invested enough in development that means he’s got an alternative,” Mulvey said.

“He’s the kind of artist who encourages obsession. People who like Neil Young tend to love Neil Young, and they’re invested in listening to a hell of a lot of Neil Young. As a consequence, it becomes quite different from the Spotify grazing experience of interacting with an artist’s catalogue.”

Spotify, a Swedish company based in Stockholm, said: “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

In backing Joe Rogan over Neil Young, Spotify has put podcasting before music, which is not insignificant for a $32 billion company founded to help songwriters beat piracy (Jake Kanter writes).

But Rogan, 54, is no ordinary content creator. The brash American comedian and cage-fighting commentator is one of Spotify’s biggest audio bets. The Swedish company spent $100 million in 2020 on exclusive rights to his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, helping it to overtake Apple as a leader in the audio field. The show began in 2009 and has become a phenomenon. Although Spotify has not released listening figures, The Joe Rogan Experience is the service’s most popular podcast in the US, Britain and Canada.

Rogan is nothing if not prolific, having hosted 1,770 episodes in 11 years, regularly posting more than once a week. Famous guests include Elon Musk, who spawned internet memes by smoking cannabis during the recording.

He has built his brand on putting freedom of expression first and giving a platform to controversial figures in sprawling conversations. A recent episode with Professor Jordan Peterson, the divisive Canadian author, runs to more than four hours and takes in subjects including climate change and race. On the latter, Peterson said: “Unless you are talking to someone who is like 100 per cent African, from the darkest place where they are not wearing any clothes all day . . . the term ‘black’ is weird.”

It is Rogan’s embrace of Covid-19 conspiracies that Young has spotlighted. Rogan has said that healthy young people need not be jabbed. Last month he hosted Dr Robert Malone, a vaccine sceptic who was banned from Twitter for breaking its Covid-19 misinformation rules.

Rogan has kept “full creative control” over his show since selling to Spotify and it has stood by him. Others, including YouTube, have deleted some of his content. If more artists go the way of Young, Spotify may be forced to reassess its support for one of its biggest stars.

VIEWPOINT #2, an alternative  VIEWPOINT, from "Neil, Joni, Have You Forgotten Your Own?" | THE LONG HAUL

The fight against Spotify and Joe Rogan has been all over the news the past couple weeks.

Starting with Neil Young, big-name artists, especially those synonymous with the era of ’60s protest music, have begun to pull their music from Spotify due to the company’s unwillingness to take down Rogan’s podcast, which they blame for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Joni Mitchell followed suit, writing on her website that she “decided to remove all of my music from Spotify” because “irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives.”

I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit slapped in the face by this whole thing. Neil and Joni are some of my biggest musical heroes, and I have been strongly influenced by the protest music of their era. I strive to be the kind of artist who stands up for what I believe in and uses music to make my voice heard. I’m glad that they are using their power to try to further the cause of life-saving vaccines, and to support science over pseudoscience. And I understand that they are both survivors of polio and therefore feel personally close to the cause. My issue is that THIS is the battle they chose to fight with Spotify.

In regard to Rogan, the argument against Spotify hosting him is essentially, “Hey, Joe, you have a huge platform here, it’s your responsibility to use it for good!” Similarly, Joni and Neil have a huge platform, but in a comparably very small space. As Sean Jewell, editor of roots music website American Standard Time and owner of Seattle-based American Standard Time Records, pointed out in a Facebook post, Mitchell has 7 million listeners a month on Spotify. Joe Rogan has 11 million listeners PER SHOW. This just feels like such a waste of a power play by these great artists. Why throw away your protest power on something so far outside of your zone of influence when you could be doing so much more with it in your own community?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen streaming services basically destroy the economy of the music industry. Musicians are making less than a penny on each stream while selling pitiful numbers of digital and physical music. Record labels are broke and unable to invest in any kind of artist development and growth. The industry has been essentially driven into the ground by these hugely profitable streaming platforms, and here come Neil and Joni, using their political and social power against Spotify … because of JOE ROGAN??? Are you kidding me?

Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion about Spotify’s responsibility to police the podcasts that they host. It’s hard to stomach anti-vaxxers in the best of times. I understand the issue with Rogan’s huge listener base, and I think it’s a valuable conversation to have. But Spotify was built primarily on the blood, sweat, tears, time, and hard-earned dollars of musicians. I just wish that those big artists, who truly have the power to make a difference for us small and even medium-sized fish at the bottom, would have taken a beat and realized that they could have made this play so much more effectively, and for much more relevant and impactful reasons. What if they had used that power to ask for higher artist royalties? Or exposed the unique (and much more favorable) deals that major labels get from streaming as compared to indie and small-label artists? It could have taken off like wildfire. We could have seen an industrywide protest that might have made a difference for so many people. Instead, we are sitting here talking about the content and consequence of Joe Rogan’s podcast. Why aren’t we talking about the fact that Rogan was paid $100 million by Spotify for the right to stream his podcast? Yes, this is the same company saying they “can’t afford” to pay musicians more.

Joni and Neil lived through a very different era in the music industry, one in which big money was made on records that are only mid-level successful by today’s standards. That’s because everyone who was listening had to pay for the music. I feel these old industry heroes have forgotten us little guys, drowning here at the bottom, and even the middle. I have 40,000 to 80,000 listeners per month on Spotify, and over 8 million streams in total, yet I can’t pay my bills with royalties for even one month if I can’t tour. Sometimes I imagine how much different my life, my art, my live show, my capacity to create could be if I were paid even a penny for each of those streams.

Here we have an entire class of musicians that have barely been able to get off the ground and tour since 2020, and it’s nigh on impossible to eke out a living from your recorded music alone. Every time this conversation about Spotify’s impossible business model comes up among my peers (and it does often), we say “Yeah, but we don’t have the power. We’re stuck with this streaming model that is impossible to live on and also impossible to quit. We really need some big artists to take this on because they could start a movement that the services will actually care about.”

I’m just so disappointed that when the big artists finally spoke up, it was wasted on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is an inevitable, albeit frustrating, voice in our society. It’s time for us to get smart about how we’re going to move forward as a creative class, and ask our heroes and leaders to do the same.