Netflix CEO Reed Hastings defends the company's decision to withdraw an episode of the 19459003 Hasan Minhaj Patriot Act from his service in Saudi Arabia, saying that Netflix is not "in truth in the matter of power."  Hastings talked about the decision, which happened earlier this year while at a New York Times DealBook event this week. Minhaj's episode criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the government's reaction to the high-profile, heavily criticized death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The government allegedly told Netflix that Minhaj's episode violated the country's online crime law.
"We're not in the truth about doing business, we're in the entertainment business," Hastings told reporter Aaron Ross Sorkin, who reported by NBC's Dylan Byers .
However, that is not entirely true. Netflix has released a number of limited series and movies that hold the truth to power. Ava DuVernay's When They See Us investigated the case in Central Park Five which saw five young black men unjustly convicted of a crime. The documentaries were criticized and won an Emmy, but it also resulted in a defamation case against DuVernay and Netflix that the two parties are currently fighting. The Laundromat a film based on the Panama Papers starring Meryl Streep, investigated a major data breach demonstrating how wealthy and powerful people hid their money. The film even resulted in a lawsuit from two lawyers who tried to stop the movie from flowing, but the attempt failed.
It's likely that Netflix holds the truth to power with a number of releases, though Hastings won't admit it. More on that is the message he sends to future filmmakers and writers who may want to hold powerful people accountable for their actions. Hastings did not defend Minhaj's work. Instead, he sat down with a foreign government about a decision that led to great criticism.
Netflix's decision spurred complaints from various organizations and public figures, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Director Jillian C. York told The Financial Times back in January that Netflix removed the episode was "an argument for freedom of speech." Even though the episode was removed from Netflix in Saudi Arabia, it was still available to watch for free on YouTube.
"Obviously, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, get it online and then leave it on YouTube," Minhaj tweeted at the time. "Let's not forget that the world's biggest humanitarian crisis is happening in Yemen right now."
Netflix has been operating in Saudi Arabia for nearly three years. A spokesman for the company told CNBC at the time that Netflix's response "was consistent with how other US companies operate." Hasting's new comment nevertheless comes at a time when international relations between entertainment companies and countries like China are being heavily scrutinized.
Netflix does not operate in China, although it has tried over the years, citing a "challenging" regulatory environment. Other companies, such as Disney, Apple and Blizzard Entertainment, have ongoing relationships with China. Recent actions by some of the aforementioned companies in China have led to widespread criticism.