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Netflix Boss Defends Censoring Hasan Minhaj Show After Saudi Protest

08 November 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. "So we can accomplish a lot more by being entertainment and influencing a global conversation about how people live than trying to be another news channel". Free-speech purists would like companies to do more to fight censorship in repressive countries like Saudi Arabia. But there is certainly a threat that a vigorous protection of no cost speech could get a enterprise like Netflix banned from countries like Saudi Arabia entirely, which could be an even even worse outcome for flexibility of speech. Notably, Netflix said it would "re-think" filming in Georgia a year ago if the state passed an anti-abortion bill.

"Hasan's enormously amusing, interesting, and he's, you know, one more quite justified critique of MBS, but that's just, like, not our core brand, that's a news kind of thing", Hastings went on. "That's what you stand for", Hastings responded.

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Hastings added a caveat on how far he would go: "If they can came to us and said you can't have gay content, we wouldn't do that". "It's tough. If you want to be a news brand, then you have a different set of things that you do".

The Patriot Act host addressed the removal of the episode himself in a February episode: "This isn't about just censoring one episode of a TV show".

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The episode in question was highly critical of Saudi Arabia, especially crown prince Mohammed bin Salman's alleged involvement with the killing of a reporter for The Washington Post. The CIA reportedly concluded a year ago that the crown prince ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, but he's denied it. But it remained available outside of Saudi Arabia. The Senate has said it believes the crown prince is responsible for the grisly killing, despite insistence by the kingdom that he had no knowledge of the operation. And he specifically brought up Minhaj, asking why they took the episode down.

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. And Saudi censorship boosted Minhaj's profile in the US.

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Netflix Boss Defends Censoring Hasan Minhaj Show After Saudi Protest