Netflix defends decision to pull Patriot Act episode that criticised Saudi Arabia’s rulers

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has defended the company’s decision to pull an episode of the political satire show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from its Saudi Arabia platform, stating Netflix is not in the “truth to power business”.

In January, the decision was taken to remove the episode that criticised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in connection to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a vocal critic of the kingdom’s royal family, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of his death, before claiming he had been murdered in a “rogue operation” on the orders of an intelligence officer.  

Netflix confirmed to the Financial Times it had pulled the episode after receiving a complaint from the kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission, stating the streaming service had violated Saudi anti-cybercrime law. 

Speaking about the controversial decision at a New York Times DealBook event this week, Hastings said: “We’re not in the truth to power business, we’re in the entertainment business.”

Netflix has released a number of series and films that hold truth to power such as When They See Us, which explored the Central Park Five case that saw five young black men wrongfully convicted for a crime, and The Laundromat, a movie based on the Panama Papers scandal starring Meryl Streep.

The company’s decision to remove the episode led to a backlash with some labelling the move an “affront to freedom of expression”.

Despite the episode being taken off Netflix in Saudi Arabia, it was still available to watch for free on YouTube in the country.

“Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube,” Minhaj tweeted at the time.

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