Netflix pulls comedy show on Khashoggi murder, Yemen war after Saudi pressure
Netflix has removed an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its Saudi catalog, after the Kingdom’s government took offense to a segment criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In the episode, still available in the US, the Muslim American comedian blasts Saudi Arabia’s role in the war in Yemen and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as MBS’ self-stoked image as a ‘reformer.’
“Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Minhaj said in the episode. “And I mean that as a Muslim, and as an American.”
"There are people in Saudi Arabia fighting for true reform,” he continued, “but MBS is not one of them. And to those who continue to work with him, just know that with every deal you close, you are simply helping entrench an absolute monarch under the guise of progress."
As part of his efforts to break his country’s near-total dependence on oil exports, MBS’ government has invested heavily in American tech companies, including ridesharing app Uber and a raft of Silicon Valley startups like food delivery company Zume and ‘smart window’ firm View Inc.
Silicon Valley, Minhaj said in the episode, is “swimming in Saudi cash.”
Minhaj’s words would prove prophetic, as Netflix removed the offending episode. According to the Financial Times, the removal was not motivated by “Saudi cash,” but by legal threats. The streaming giant told the FT that it removed the episode after receiving a complaint from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission.
The commission claimed that the episode violated a cybercrime law forbidding the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.” Civil liberties activists have called the law a tool to suppress free speech in Saudi Arabia.
“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request–and to comply with local law,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
Netflix’ explanation didn’t satisfy commentators on Twitter, who slammed the company for caving to Saudi pressure.
You suck @netflix!This shows the tremendous danger of, as @hasanminhaj put it, "Silicon Valley swimming in Saudi cash."Silicon Valley has allowed the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi to decide what we can and cannot watch on Netflix... https://t.co/lutkzrrIUD— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) January 1, 2019
Yes, this was pulled only in Saudi Arabia but... isn’t that where it’s the most important to show it? This is a challenge for every media and tech company trying to make money in repressive states. Sad Netflix caved on this. https://t.co/uaKk7eNKG2— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) January 1, 2019
Not ok. Netflix needs to restore the show...or we need to seriously think about boycotting Netflix. @netflix Personally I'm not interested in supporting a media outlet where the Saudis have censorship rights. https://t.co/470hoMqY8n— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) January 1, 2019
While the episode was pulled from Netflix, Saudi viewers keen for some anti-government comedy can watch it on Youtube, which is not blocked in the country.
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