Nov 6, 2019

Netflix CEO defends pulling episode of show critical of Saudi Arabia

Reed Hastings. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gave a full-throated defense of the company’s decision to remove an episode of the show "Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj" from its platform in Saudi Arabia after a complaint from the Saudi government about Minhaj's criticisms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"We're not in the news business. We're not trying to do 'truth to power.' We're trying to entertain."
— Hastings at the New York Times Dealbook conference

Why it matters: It’s another example of corporations attempting to walk the fine line of upholding values like free speech while also trying not to offend foreign governments that could put business at risk.

  • Most recently, the NBA apologized to Chinese fans for a tweet by Houston Rockets' general manager Daryl Morey that expressed support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
  • Back in 2017, Snap removed Al Jazeera from its "Discover" news platform in Saudi Arabia after the government said the news organization "violated its media and cybercrime laws," per NBC News.

Of note: Earlier this year, Netflix told the New York Times: "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 bottom line: Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon, Edelman CEO Richard Edelman said that companies need to be global but locally minded and understand what rules exist in certain places to operate.

  • Yes, but: As companies depend more on international markets for growth, that might sometimes come at the expense of values that the same companies have touted in the U.S.

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CEOs' allergy to geopolitics

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If CEOs are the new politicians, many of them don't seem to have thought carefully about foreign policy — particularly about working with autocratic regimes.

Why it matters: Corporate America continues to do business with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who allegedly oversaw the beheading of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to court business in places like China and Turkey.

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Saudi Aramco is taking the world's largest oil producer public in what is expected to be the largest IPO of all-time — but it will be smaller than expected. Dan digs in with Axios' Ben Geman on what this means for global financial and energy markets, plus the future of Saudi Arabia.

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Former Twitter employees charged with spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia

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Justice Department charges were revealed on Wednesday against two former Twitter employees for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia by obtaining information on dissidents who use the platform, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters via the Post: This marks the "first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused the kingdom of running agents in the United States. ... The case highlights the issue of foreign powers exploiting American social media platforms to identify critics and suppress their voices," and it has escalated concerns over the tech industry's ability to protect user data.

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