Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is defending the company’s decision to pull an episode of Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj earlier this year. The episode, which explored the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, was pulled in January after the country’s government complained, sparking widespread criticism.
“Well, we're not in the news business. We're not trying to do 'truth to power,'" Hastings said at the New York Times DealBook Conference when asked why the company’s decision, The Hill reports. “We're trying to entertain. And we can pick fights with governments about newsy topics, or we can say, because the Saudi government lets us have us shows like "Sex Education," that show a very liberal lifestyle, and show very provocative and important topics."
"And so, we can accomplish a lot more by being entertainment, and influencing a global conversation about how people live, than trying to be another news channel," he added.
Streaming in October of 2018 after the murder of Washington Post journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, the episode, which remains available in most countries, strongly criticized the Saudi Crown Prince and suggested that he was an enemy of progress in the country.
Netflix announced in January of this year that they had chosen to remove the episode in Saudi Arabia after the country’s government filed a "valid legal request.”
“We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request – and to comply with local law,” the streaming company said in a statement at the time.
The decision proved to be widely controversial, with many speaking out against it. Khashoggi's former editor at the Washington Post, Karen Attiaj, called the choice "quite outrageous."
“[Hasan Minhaj of Patriot Act] has been a strong, honest and (funny) voice challenging Saudi Arabia + Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of [Khashoggi’s] murder. He brought awareness about Yemen," she tweeted, adding, "Quite outrageous that [Netflix] has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia."0comments
Sen. Bernie Sanders also criticized the move, stating that “an authoritarian dictator who murders journalists, tortures women activists and starves thousands of children should not control what Americans can and cannot say.”
Addressing the removal in his own words, Minhaj tweeted that, “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.”