STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Netflix pulls episode of show mocking Saudis

Netflix has blocked an episode of the comedy show "Patriot Act" that tackles the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from streaming in Saudi Arabia after officials from the Kingdom complained.

Posted: Jan 4, 2019 4:48 AM
Updated: Jan 4, 2019 5:03 AM

What's the price of censoring one episode of a Netflix show in Saudi Arabia?

Though Netflix has not released specifics on the number of subscribers in the country, the recent controversy over its removal of an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj's show "Patriot Act" is throwing a sharp spotlight on how media and tech companies balance artistic freedom against local laws, and their business.

Last week Netflix pulled the episode for viewers in Saudi Arabia after officials there complained to Netflix that the episode, first posted in October, violated an article of the country's anti-cyber crime law.

Netflix said in a statement that it supports artistic freedom and only removed the episode for Saudi viewers because of the valid legal request.

"It doesn't mean we agree with these laws," a spokesperson told CNN.

Netflix is focused on expanding Internationally, pouring money into original content from around the world made in local languages. It's already available in every country and region around the world except China, Syria, Crimea and North Korea.

Saudi Arabia is a relatively new country for Netflix, as the company only expanded there three years ago. But Guy Bisson, a London-based media industry analyst and research director with Ampere Analysis, told CNN Business that the region in general is an important area for streaming video.

"The Middle East is going to be one of the big focus markets for that local production because it's clearly a potentially lucrative and large market for them," Bisson said.

Netflix said Saudi Arabia cited Article 6 of its anti-cyber crimes law, which states that "production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers" is a crime, according to the Financial Times, which first broke the story.

But it's not clear yet which aspect of the law Minhaj's show broke. Minhaj spent considerable time criticizing Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and the government's handling of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and questioned whether Saudi Arabia, which contains most of Islam's holiest sites, properly represented Muslim values.

"What makes this different is that it's not immediately obvious why it breaches the particular law they said it does, and it's obviously a political issue as well — and that's a slightly different matter," Bisson said.

Netflix is not the first tech company to run up against local laws and customs as it tries to expand globally.

Google, for instance, has recently come under fire for a secret project to build a censored search engine that could provide the company a way to appease Chinese regulators and get back into the Chinese market. And like Netflix's recent situation, Google has removed some content, publicizing some data about which countries have requested it remove content and the general reason why in a transparency report. Netflix does not post a transparency report.

And Netflix already complies with certain regulations in other countries. New Zealand, for example, banned a documentary about suicide called "The Bridge" from being shown outside of film festivals. The documentary is not available on Netflix in New Zealand, though it is available in other countries.

Some countries are even using laws to keep that production local — another regulation with which Netflix and other media companies will have to contend. EU lawmakers recently voted to require that video-on-demand services ensure at least 30% of their available content is European-made.

Mary Ann Halford, a former 21st Century Fox executive who worked on that company's international operations, told CNN Business that Netflix had little choice but to take down the "Patriot Act" episode.

"If Netflix had taken it down across the world then that would be a major issue. I don't think Netflix had much legal room in this particular situation," said Halford, who now works as an adviser at OC&C Strategy Consultants.

Halford said the only way Netflix could effect change in Saudi Arabia is by staying in the market. The sacrifice of one episode in the country might be worth it to keep the rest of Minhaj's show online there, she said.

"They could risk being shut down in Saudi Arabia, and I don't think doing that advances Netflix's interest," Halford said. "One of [the United States'] greatest exports is American culture, so I don't know why we'd want to stop doing that. And listen, this comedian will still be seen."

Indeed, as Minhaj himself tweeted on Wednesday, it's likely far more people now know about the censored episode and his show than before the incident.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 486434

Reported Deaths: 6575
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1009131586
Ramsey43165803
Dakota36375392
Anoka33335388
Washington22121258
Stearns18752201
St. Louis14822263
Scott13308107
Wright12538116
Olmsted1181788
Sherburne874172
Carver775640
Clay692387
Rice670791
Blue Earth596635
Kandiyohi579674
Crow Wing521282
Chisago499545
Otter Tail483270
Benton447790
Winona418549
Mower405731
Douglas393368
Nobles387247
Goodhue386269
Polk343763
McLeod340049
Beltrami338651
Morrison324747
Itasca313646
Lyon313644
Becker312542
Isanti306756
Steele301511
Carlton300149
Freeborn282623
Pine282016
Nicollet259241
Todd248330
Brown245537
Le Sueur235720
Mille Lacs227947
Cass220424
Waseca209317
Meeker207434
Martin189928
Wabasha18673
Roseau180317
Hubbard160740
Houston157414
Dodge15294
Renville150340
Redwood147027
Fillmore13768
Chippewa136735
Pennington136316
Cottonwood135020
Wadena131020
Faribault123417
Aitkin119033
Watonwan11758
Sibley117310
Rock115914
Kanabec107519
Pipestone101624
Yellow Medicine97617
Murray9488
Jackson93610
Swift87918
Pope8075
Marshall78015
Lake74218
Stevens7418
Clearwater71914
Lac qui Parle68516
Wilkin67411
Koochiching61911
Big Stone5163
Lincoln5092
Grant4918
Norman4788
Unassigned44568
Mahnomen4417
Kittson40921
Red Lake3625
Traverse3075
Lake of the Woods2191
Cook1180

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 335218

Reported Deaths: 5443
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk51785551
Linn19463313
Scott17080210
Black Hawk14924292
Woodbury13778212
Johnson1312174
Dubuque12416194
Dallas1019092
Pottawattamie9828143
Story959345
Warren511674
Clinton500784
Cerro Gordo498882
Webster494487
Sioux479169
Marshall463072
Des Moines427161
Muscatine424191
Buena Vista412237
Wapello4025108
Jasper386266
Plymouth367478
Lee354252
Marion339869
Jones284654
Henry279637
Bremer268754
Carroll266349
Crawford252235
Boone242830
Benton240354
Washington239047
Mahaska215246
Jackson209738
Dickinson202440
Tama202365
Kossuth198055
Delaware185540
Clay183825
Winneshiek182827
Fayette178635
Page177819
Buchanan176929
Wright173831
Hamilton173742
Cedar171523
Hardin169439
Harrison167169
Clayton159854
Butler158831
Mills147920
Floyd147741
Poweshiek147730
Lyon145541
Cherokee145336
Allamakee142347
Madison141918
Iowa139423
Hancock137630
Grundy132030
Winnebago130231
Calhoun129311
Cass128751
Jefferson128334
Appanoose123147
Louisa122341
Mitchell120440
Chickasaw119615
Union118731
Sac118318
Shelby116433
Emmet115040
Humboldt113525
Franklin109019
Guthrie108928
Palo Alto100921
Howard99021
Montgomery96736
Clarke94720
Keokuk92029
Monroe89428
Adair81028
Ida81032
Pocahontas80919
Davis76323
Monona76327
Greene72910
Lucas71421
Osceola68215
Worth6667
Taylor64112
Decatur5699
Fremont5599
Van Buren53718
Ringgold50520
Audubon4739
Wayne45821
Adams3184
Unassigned00
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
35° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 35°
Mason City
Clear
33° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 26°
Albert Lea
Partly Cloudy
34° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 29°
Austin
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 32°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 26°
Several days of mild weather expected
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Dentists to administer covid vaccines

Image

New fishing pier coming to Rochester

Image

Record number of handgun permits issued in Minnesota

Image

Creating an 'IT ecosystem' in North Iowa

Image

Tracking WX Live at Silver Lake Park

Image

Hyvee adding nail salons

Image

World's Largest Grain Bin

Image

Ride Share services up

Image

Olmsted County Vaccine Progress

Image

Dodge County Begins Administering Covid Vaccines

Community Events