Netflix Refuses to ‘Proactively’ Censor Film on Hong Kong Activist Joshua Wong

Banners of pro democracy activist and South Horizons Community Organiser Joshua Wong are placed in front of the Central Government Complex during the announcement of his run for 2019 District Council elections in Hong Kong on September 28, 2019 (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP …
PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images

The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported on Friday that streaming giant Netflix has decided not to “proactively” censor a documentary about Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, despite concerns it might be ruled “subversive” under the totalitarian security law Beijing has imposed on the island.

According to the HKFP’s source, Netflix is still “gauging the implications and risks” posed by the security law, which gives the Hong Kong police sweeping powers to impose censorship and punish those accused of creating or broadcasting material that allegedly threatens Chinese national security. Virtually anything the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dislikes could easily be labeled as a threat, particularly anything that smacks of “foreign interference in Hong Kong.” Censorship orders can be issued without court review.

Quite a few books, movies, and websites have already been proactively banned in Hong Kong by creators and providers fearful of being persecuted under the national security law, including books written by Joshua Wong.

“Proactive” censorship might have been ruled out, but censorship is still on the table if China demands it. The HKFP’s source said Netflix is willing to consider banning the Joshua Wong documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, or a 2015 sci-fi movie called Ten Years that imagines life in Hong Kong in 2025 after precisely the sort of crackdown China just imposed, if Hong Kong’s Beijing-controlled administration specifically asks them to do so.

Ten Years is already banned in China, where CCP apparatchiks denounced it as “absurd” and a “thought virus.” This, of course, means the film is deadly accurate in predicting five years ago what China was planning to do to Hong Kong. One of the five stories told in the film even revolves around China imposing a draconian national security law. The movie was enormously successful in pre-crackdown Hong Kong, counting a teenager named Joshua Wong among its many fans. When it won Best Picture at the 2015 Hong Kong Film Awards, the Communists abruptly cut the video feed of the awards ceremony to mainland viewers.

“Netflix does not proactively review its content based on local laws. The only instance where the company may consider removing these two titles is if the Hong Kong government submits a written demand for them to be taken down,” the source said.

Netflix admits for the record that it has banned nine movies and series at the request of various governments since the service launched in 1997. According to the HKFP’s source, if Hong Kong officials ask for Joshua and/or Ten Years to be banned, they would only be removed from Netflix Hong Kong and could still be viewed in other regions.

Joshua Wong himself warned on Thursday that China’s security law will empower and encourage Hong Kong officials to make censorship demands of foreign news and entertainment media. He challenged companies like Netflix to clearly state, in advance, whether they would comply with such demands.

“Unfortunately, YouTube and Netflix alike still remain silent on their stances on the national security law and whether they will bend to China’s whips and censor ‘sensitive videos’ from their platforms. We hope all service providers can put democratic values ahead of dollar signs,” he said.

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