How would a patriot act? —
“We’re not in the news business,” Reed Hastings said. “We’re trying to entertain.”
Timothy B. Lee
As 2019 began, Netflix suppressed an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s showPatriot Actfor the Saudi Arabian market, sparking outcry from some Western critics. In a Wednesday interview, CEO Reed Hastings shrugged off those concerns.
“We’re not in the news business,” he said during an event sponsored by The New York Times. “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power.’ We’re trying to entertain.”
“We can accomplish a lot more by being entertainment and influence the conversation about the way people live, rather than being another news channel,” he added.
Netflix removed the video at the request of the Saudi government, which said it violated a Saudi law prohibiting distribution of content that impinges on public order, religious values, or public morals.
The removal prevented some Saudis from watching the video, at least on Netflix’s platform. But it remained available outside of Saudi Arabia. And Saudi censorship boosted Minhaj’s profile in the United States.
“For the first time in my life, I was a bipartisan icon,” Minhaj joked. “Liberals and conservatives: they both embraced me like I was money from Big Pharma.”
Global media companies like Netflix face a difficult task balancing the competing demands of governments around the world. Free-speech purists would like companies to do more to fight censorship in repressive countries like Saudi Arabia. But there’s a risk that a vigorous defense of free speech could get a company like Netflix banned from countries like Saudi Arabia altogether, which could be an even worse outcome for freedom of speech.