Netflix pulls episode of ‘Patriot Act’ critical of Saudi government at their request, draws criticism
According to NPR, Netflix has dropped an episode of Hassan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act with Hassan Minhaj, which was critical of Saudi Arabia’s role in the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The episode is currently only banned in Saudi Arabia, and explores the many lies, half-truths, and contradictions given by the Saudi state government and its leader Mohammed bin Salman.
Last week, the Financial Times reported that the Saudis made streaming giant Netflix erase the episode from its collection, as a regulator quoted a law which stops “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”
A spokesperson for Netflix explained to NPR that they were only following that law. “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law,” the spokesperson said. However, Minhaj’s show maintains its own YouTube page, and the episode in question is still available to be viewed in Saudi Arabia on that site. Google, which owns YouTube, has not clarified whether or not the Saudi government has asked them to remove the episode from their website.
Minhaj also spoke to the Atlantic about the idea that he could face repercussions from the Saudi government over his episode and discussed how he now has fears for his own safety. “There was a lot of discussion in my family about not doing it,” Minhaj said. “I’ve just come to personal and spiritual terms with what the repercussions are.” Minhaj, who is Muslim, then discussed briefly the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, which is located in Saudi Arabia “[the hajj is] a necessary condition to me completing my faith… But it’s held in a country that does not represent my values in any way whatsoever.”
Netflix’s choice to pull the episode was met with widespread criticism. The Washington Post‘s Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah called out Netflix in a tweet, asserting that the choice to pull the episode by request of the government is “quite outrageous.”
Quite outrageous that @netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia.
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) January 1, 2019
But this move is not without precedent. Netflix has also removed three shows from Singapore’s version of the site—Disjointed, Cooking on High, and The Legend of 420–because of the country’s objections to depiction of marijuana use, which is tightly restricted in the South Asian country.