Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defended his company’s decision to comply with Saudi Arabian officials and pull an episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” about the grisly killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from the Saudi version of the platform.
Hastings briefly talked about the episode and other Netflix controversies during The New York Times’ DealBook conference in New York City Wednesday.
“We’re not in the news business,” Hastings said of Netflix, according to Deadline. “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power.’ We’re trying to entertain.”
Hastings also said that Netflix could “accomplish a lot more by being entertainment” rather than “trying to be another news channel,” according to The Hollywood Reporter’s account of the conference.
In the episode in question, titled “Saudi Arabia,” Hasan criticizes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is thought to be responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. He also denounces the U.S. government’s relationship with the country.
“Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I mean that as a Muslim and as an American,” Minhaj says in the episode.
“MBS asked, ‘Why the outrage?’ and frankly, MBS’s confusion is completely understandable,” Minhaj adds later, referring to bin Salman. “He has been getting away with autocratic shit like [Khashoggi’s killing] for years with almost no blowback from the international community.”
Netflix told the Financial Times in January that Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission asked for the episode to be removed from the Saudi version of Netflix because it reportedly violated the country’s laws.
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who often wrote critically of the crown prince, disappeared last year after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while his fiancee waited outside. It was later revealed that assassins brutally murdered him and cut his body into pieces with a bone saw.
CIA officials determined that the Saudi crown prince ordered the journalist’s murder, though the Saudi government continues to deny it.
Hastings reportedly said he had no remorse for complying with Saudi officials’ request, but said things would’ve been different if the request was over “gay content.”
“We don’t feel bad about that at all,” Hastings also said, as reported by Variety.
“If they came to us and said you can’t have gay content, we wouldn’t do that. We would not comply with that,” he explained, according to THR.
Minhaj mocked Netflix for censoring the episode in Saudi Arabia.
“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,” the comedian tweeted after the episode was pulled.
In an interview with CNN, Minhaj said he wasn’t prepared to go up against a dictator.
“I’m not built for this beef,” he told CNN’s Van Jones. “I’m not ready to go head-to-head with dictators or autocrats, so I’m sorry in advance. Like, I want to live to see the retweets.”
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