Netflix Agrees To Pull Episode Of Hasan Minhaj's 'Patriot Act' In Saudi Arabia NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Variety editor Michael Schneider about Netflix pulling an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj in Saudi Arabia and the company's relationship with repressive governments.

Netflix Agrees To Pull Episode Of Hasan Minhaj's 'Patriot Act' In Saudi Arabia

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In Saudi Arabia, fans of comedian Hasan Minhaj and his Netflix program "Patriot Act" are going to have to find another way to watch one particular episode.


HASAN MINHAJ: Now, if you've been watching the news, then you know that Saudi Arabia has been engulfed in a massive diplomatic crisis...

KELLY: This is an episode in which Minhaj takes on the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi regime's evolving explanations for how he died.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Last week, the Saudis said it was an accident after a fistfight.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And of course, that's a real shift in the narrative from them.

MINHAJ: This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won Sexiest Man Alive.


MINHAJ: Are you kidding me?

KELLY: The Saudi government was not amused and has demanded that Netflix pull the episode in that country, a demand with which Netflix has complied. Here to talk this through is Michael Schneider. He is senior editor for Variety. Hi there.


KELLY: Were you surprised at Netflix's decision to yank this episode?

SCHNEIDER: Honestly, not too surprised. I mean, we're seeing this story over and over again. As these media companies continue to expand globally, they run into these problems all the time in regimes that particularly censor both free speech and also entertainment. So I'm sure Netflix expected something like this to happen. And it will continue to happen.

KELLY: A Netflix spokesperson has put out a statement, which I will summarize. They say they do support artistic freedom, but that they had to remove this episode to comply with local law in Saudi Arabia. What do you make of that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, (laughter) at the end of the day, business comes first. As much as all of these companies enjoy free speech and support free speech to a degree, you know, these are companies that live and die especially on international expansion. Netflix does very well in the U.S., but its big growth is international. And they can't afford to upset these kind of regimes too much. Saudi Arabia, just like any territory, is important to Netflix. And at the end of the day, they'll comply with censorship.

KELLY: Could they have fought this demand? I mean, is there precedent for Netflix or another big company to have done that?

SCHNEIDER: You know, for the most part, these companies try not to fight these things. They bend over backwards sometimes to comply to international regimes. China especially you've seen a number of companies over the years change content. MGM famously digitally altered a movie in 2012 that showed Chinese soldiers as the villains. They changed the movie so that it was North Korea that was the villain.

And we've seen that over and over again both with content in China and, you know, overseas. Netflix has done this in the past in territories like Singapore, where they've changed a number of shows because of drug use, for example. You know, there are all sorts of different things that different territories are really concerned with, and Netflix and other companies tend to comply.

KELLY: What are the consequences as you see them for Hasan Minhaj, either for his career or for the future of this program?

SCHNEIDER: Well, honestly, you know, Hasan actually wrote on Twitter that the best thing to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online and then leave it up on YouTube. So in some ways, more people than ever are hearing about this episode, which aired way back in October, than they probably did at the time. So this is probably a good thing for Hasan Minhaj.

KELLY: The old all-publicity-is-good-publicity school of thought.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And honestly, we're talking about this again today, and we're talking about Jamal Khashoggi again today, you know? So ultimately, this is bringing awareness to both Hasan Minhaj's comedy and also a humanitarian crisis around the world.

KELLY: From a tech point of view, are their workarounds to this? Could a really determined Saudi still find a way to watch this episode?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it sounds like it is up on YouTube. So I think if people are determined, and they hear about it, there's always a way. Content is yearning to be (laughter) spread and be seen.

KELLY: I suppose that speaks to the futility of trying to ban anything in 2019 when there always (laughter) seems to be some kind of workaround.

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely, but people will still try.

KELLY: Michael Schneider is senior editor for Variety. Thanks for your time.

SCHNEIDER: Thanks so much.


KELLY: And full disclosure, the Saudi government is an investor in the parent company of Variety, Penske Media.


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