Corporate Censorship: Netflix Pulls ‘Patriot Act’ Episode to Please Saudi Government

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 21: Hasan Minhaj performs onstage during OZY FEST 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park on July 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Ozy Media)
Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for Ozy Media

Streaming service Netflix ditched an episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” in Saudi Arabi in what critics call a flagrant capitulation to government censorship.

The Financial Times newspaper reports the conservative Islamic kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission said the episode violated local cybercrime law and demanded it be withdrawn from public issue.

In the episode, Minhaj — an American-born Muslim of Indian descent — lashed Saudi Arabia after the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia initially denied the death, before claiming he had been strangled to death after a fight had broken out.

“They went through so many explanations, the only one they didn’t say was that Khashoggi died in a free solo rock climbing accident,” Minhaj jokes on the show.

Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at the Post, tweeted that Netflix’s capitulation was “quite outrageous”:

Netflix told the FT: “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.”

The episode can still be seen in other parts of the world — and in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.

Human Rights Watch cautioned artists whose work is broadcast on Netflix should be outraged, adding that Saudi Arabia has no interest in its citizens exercising democratic rights. It said:

Every artist whose work appears on Netflix should be outraged that the company has agreed to censor a comedy show because the thin-skinned royals in Saudi complained about it,” a spokesperson said. “Netflix’s claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens – not artistic, not political, not comedic.

Online platforms and tech companies face increasing scrutiny and growing public skepticism in the face of controversies about data sharing and the steady erosion of privacy.

In October, the press freedom watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranked Saudi Arabia as 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom, adding that “it will very probably fall even lower in the 2019 index because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists.”

After releasing its annual study of global internet freedom, another watchdog, Freedom House, said in November that Saudi Arabia was among those employing “troll armies” to manipulate social media and in many cases drown out the voices of dissidents.

AFP contributed to this report

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