Netflix CEO Defends Censoring 'Patriot Act' After Saudi Protest

Marco Green
November 8, 2019

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times DealBook conference today about Netflix itself, the growing streaming industry, etc.

When Sorkin pushed Hastings on the fact that Netflix is now complicit in censoring critics in the Middle East, Hastings again trotted out the argument that Netflix is merely an entertainment channel rather than a new channel. Free-speech purists would like companies to do more to fight censorship in repressive countries like Saudi Arabia. However there's actually a hazard vigorous protection of completely free speech might get a agency like Netflix banned from nations around the globe like Saudi Arabia altogether, which may very well be a good even worse end result for liberty of speech. Notably, Netflix said it would "re-think" filming in Georgia previous year if the state passed an anti-abortion bill.

"We're not in the news business", Hastings said, as reported by Variety and The Hill.

"This was a truth to power [moment]", Hastings said. "That's what you stand for", Hastings responded. "It's tough. If you want to be a news brand, then you have a different set of things that you do".

Earlier this year, Netflix faced criticism from human rights groups for pulling an episode in Saudi Arabia of comedian Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act series that criticized the kingdom's powerful crown prince.

Khashoggi, who wrote critically of the crown prince in columns for the newspaper, was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul previous year. A United Nations report also said the crown prince was likely involved. Minhaj also criticized Silicon Valley for taking investments from Saudi Arabia.

"It blows my mind that it took the killing of a Washington Post journalist for everyone to go: 'Oh I guess he's not really a reformer, '" Minhaj said in the episode. Netflix complied by removing the episode.

In response, Hastings indicated there was a line Netflix wouldn't cross when it came to Saudi censorship, saying the company wouldn't comply if the Saudi government asked it to censor content showing LGBTQ characters or storylines.

Netflix removed the video at the request of the Saudi government, which said it violated a Saudi law prohibiting distribution of content that impinges on public order, religious values, or public morals.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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