Netflix is facing criticism after the streaming giant blocked an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj at the demands of the Saudi Arabian government. The episode criticizes Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, urged the U.S. to reconsider its longstanding support of the country, and called out Saudi Arabia for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Netflix removed the episode from its service in Saudi Arabia last week after receiving a takedown request from the Saudi government's Communications and Information Technology Commission. The request cited Saudi Arabia's anti-cybercrime laws, which prohibit the "production, preparation, transmission or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals and privacy" on the internet. In a statement to NPR, a Netflix spokesperson said, "We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request--and to comply with local law."
The second episode of Patriot Act, with US comedian Hasan Minhaj, was removed following an official complaint that it had violated Saudi anti-cybercrime law. Netflix confirmed the move to the UK's Financial Times (FT) newspaper. It said that it strongly supported artistic freedom but had to comply with local law. Despite the move, people in Saudi Arabia can still watch the episode on the show's YouTube channel. In the episode that was removed, Minhaj criticises Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Its streaming service does send content over the internet after all. But as the tech industry has been publicly flogged for the last several years, Netflix has only burnished its brand, with tech workers, Millennials, and the general public. Two recent stories suggest that Netflix may not stay outside the critic zone forever, however. Yesterday, the company admitted that it had pulled an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its service in Saudi Arabia. In the episode, Minhaj harshly criticizes the Saudi government's shifting explanations of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj dedicated a recent episode of his Netflix show Patriot Act to skewering Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the criticism did not go unnoticed by Saudi officials. The government reportedly complained to Netflix that the episode violated the kingdom's anti-cyber crime law, according to the Financial Times. In response, Netflix removed the episode from the streaming platform in Saudi Arabia. The episode can apparently still be viewed by Saudi users on the show's official YouTube channel. "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," Netflix said in a statement to the Financial Times.
What was Netflix really thinking when it caved to Saudi pressure and yanked an episode of the comedian Hasan Minhaj's new show, "Patriot Act," which featured a monologue criticizing a Saudi Arabian royal? Minhaj's monologue was hardly groundbreaking--or all that consequential--given the global fury over the assassination of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad. The Senate passed a unanimous resolution last month holding the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, responsible for the premeditated murder of the journalist. The C.I.A. also concluded with "high confidence" that the prince, who is the de-facto ruler of the desert kingdom, ordered the killing. The Turkish government leaked an intelligence tape that captured Khashoggi's desperate final struggle, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, his execution, and the grisly sounds of a bone saw dismembering his body.