After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Netflix’s Hasan Minaj spent an episode of his show, “Patriot Act,” criticizing Saudi Arabia.
After complaints lodged by Saudi Arabia’s government, Netflix pulled the show in the country. In a statement to NPR, Netflix said it supports artistic freedom and that it “removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”
Now Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is shedding some light on his company’s decision to pull the episode.
At the New York Times Dealbook Conference, Hastings was asked by CNBC’s Aaron Ross Sorkin why his company pulled the episode.
“We’re not in the news business, we’re not trying to do truth to power,” he answered. “We’re trying to entertain.”
Watch his comments below:
He argued that Netflix could influence Saudi Arabia with its entertainment content:
“We can pick fights with governments about newsy topics, or we can say, ’cause the Saudi government allows us to have shows like Sex Education, that show a very liberal lifestyle and very provocative and important topics. 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.”
Hastings said, “We don’t feel bad about that all,” about the decision to pull the episode. He continued to say that Minaj’s episode was “one more quite justified critique of [Mohammad Bin Salman],” but “that’s not our core brand.”
“Hasan’s enormously funny, interesting, and he’s, you know, one more quite justified critique of [Mohammad Bin Salman], but that’s just, like, not our core brand, that’s a news kind of thing.”
That comes as a stark contrast to Hastings’ actions domestically. In 2017, Hastings offered to resign from his position on Facebook’s board over fellow board member Peter Thiel’s support of President Donald Trump.
Hastings called Thiel’s support of Trump “catastrophically bad judgment,” and questioned whether he should stay on the board. He then offered to resign from the board if Thiel stayed.
In 2016, Hastings announced he would vote for Hillary Clinton, “I think it’s vital to put our country’s wellbeing ahead of party. Hillary Clinton is experienced, qualified, and will make a fine president. The alternative, I fear, would set our nation on a very dark path.”
Additionally, Hastings said he believed Trump would “destroy much of what is great about America.”
Just days after Trump’s inauguration, Hastings said that Trump’s actions are “hurting Netflix employees around the world, and are so un-American it pains us all.” He also encouraged Americans to “link arms together to protect American values of freedom and opportunity.”
In May 2019, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos threatened to “rethink our entire investment in Georgia” if the state’s anti-abortion law went into effect.
When pressed by Sorkin on why Netflix would try to exert influence on Georgia, but not Saudi Arabia, Hastings responded, “I think no one likes foreign interference,” and argued Netflix has no role trying to influence foreign countries’ policies.
As Axios reports, several companies have failed to uphold the value of free speech following pressure from foreign countries.