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Netflix CEO Defends Buckling to Saudi Arabia on Hasan Minhaj Episode: ‘We’re Not Trying to Do Truth to Power’

Last year, in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Hasan Minhaj devoted an episode of his show Patriot Act to calling out Saudi Arabia. Earlier this year Netflix pulled the episode from its platform in Saudi Arabia following complaints.

At the time, Netflix said in a statement to NPR, “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”

Minhaj called out Saudi Arabia in a subsequent episode and remarked, “Of all the Netflix originals the only show that Saudi Arabia thinks violates ‘Muslim values’ is the one hosted by a Muslim.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings spoke with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times DealBook conference today about Netflix itself, the growing streaming industry, etc.

At one point, Sorkin raised issues of freedom of speech and the concept of “sharing our values.” And he specifically brought up Minhaj, asking why they took the episode down.

Hastings responded by saying, “We’re not in the news business, we’re not trying to do truth to power. We’re trying to entertain.”

He elaborated:

“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.”

Sorkin pressed him with a critique that this makes Netflix complicit in Saudi censorship.

“You guys are a truth to power brand. That’s what you stand for,” Hastings responded. “We’re an entertainment brand.”

Sorkin continued pressing Hastings on the topic, noting at one point that Netflix has weighed in on politics domestically.

Hastings said, “If they came to us and said, ‘You can’t have gay content,’ we wouldn’t do that. We would not comply with that.”

“Hasan’s enormously funny, interesting, and he’s, you know, one more quite justified critique of MBS, but that’s just, like, not our core brand, that’s a news kind of thing,” he continued. “It’s tough. If you want to be a news brand, then you have a different set of things that you do. And if you want to be an entertainment brand and it’s really about sharing lifestyles, then you do have to draw hard lines, but they’re around things that are around lifestyle, not, you know, the current news.”

You can watch above, via CNBC. (The relevant portion starts around the 14:15 mark.)

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Josh Feldman is a Senior Editor at Mediaite. Email him here: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @feldmaniac