Netflix Bows To Pressure From Saudi Arabia, Taking Down Critical Comedy Show Episode


Following pressure from the Saudi Arabian government, Netflix has removed an episode of the comedy show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj which heaped criticism on the kingdom. The streaming service had received a complaint from Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission, in which it was alleged that the episode violated the country’s cyber crimes law.

As reported by TIME Magazine, Minhaj was highly critical of Saudi Arabia particularly with regard to the slaying of dissident Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and commented on the Middle Eastern country’s relationship with the United States and Silicon Valley technology companies.

Minhaj also lashed out at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, enumerating different criticisms on the de facto leader, including his efforts to be named crown prince, the bombing of Yemen, his imprisonment of his mother and hundreds of his cousins, and the imprisonment of critics and political activists.

Minhaj, who is a Muslim himself, stated in the show that he feels that Saudi Arabia “does not represent our values” and added that the United States should “reassess [its] relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

Then he started in on tech companies’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, including global giants like Uber, who have millions invested from the country.

“Tech companies are swimming in more Saudi cash than a Bugatti dealership in Beverly Hills,” Minhaj quipped.

The Saudi Law bans “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.” This law has been heavily criticized by human rights groups for threatening press freedom and freedom of speech.

People caught violating the law could be facing a fine of up to $800,000, as well as five years in a prison cell.

Netflix has also been criticized for their decision to remove the episode, but has released a statement regarding the removal.

“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 company said.

Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation, has argued that the company needs to have a better policy for dealing with requests from governments.

“If they are not doing all these things then they are not following established industry best practice for being accountable and responsible in handling government demands to restrict content.”