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01/03/2019 / By JD Heyes
Do you remember when the advent of social media was hailed as the 21st century equivalent of the printing press — platforms of democracy that would open up the world’s oppressed to previously unfamiliar concepts of freedom and liberty?
It’s been a while, but we remember those heady days and the promise of social media.
However, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now: Yesterday’s promise of liberation has become today’s authoritarian nightmare as more often than not the social media platforms have themselves become tools of oppression and censorship.
Now, we’re seeing that authoritarianism spread to entertainment platforms such as Netflix, which has just bowed to pressure from the government of Saudi Arabia to ban an episode of its in-house comedy series “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” a former alum of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and an American-born Muslim of Indian descent.
The Internet Movie Database describes the program as “a Peabody Award-winning comic explores the modern cultural and political landscape with depth and sincerity.”
“In each weekly episode, he uses his unique comedic voice and storytelling skill to investigate the larger trends shaping the fragmented world,” IMDB continues.
So what subject matter could Minhaj have possibly tackled that would so offend an entire government?
According to the Financial Times, the kingdom’s Communications and Information Technology Commission ruled that a recent episode was a violation of local cybercrime law and as such demanded that it be censored.
In the episode, Minhaj was critical of Saudi Arabia following the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi activist who was critical of the ruling monarchy in columns he wrote for the Washington Post. Reports said that Khashoggi was killed — cut into pieces — in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Initially, the Saudi government denied any involvement in the murder but then claimed that Khashoggi was strangled to death after a fight broke out.
“They went through so many explanations, the only one they didn’t say was that Khashoggi died in a free solo rock climbing accident,” Minhaj quipped on the episode in question.
In a statement to Financial Times, a Netflix representative said, “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 episode is still available for viewing elsewhere throughout the world and even in Saudi Arabia on YouTube.
The group Human Rights Watch said that artists whose shows are broadcast via Netflix ought to be angry and concerned over the incident, noting that the Saudi government has little interest in allowing Saudi citizens to exercise rights of free expression. (Related: POTUS Trump blasts ‘illegal’ social media BIAS and censorship, vows actions.)
“Every artist whose work appears on Netflix should be outraged that the company has agreed to censor a comedy show because the thin-skinned royals in Saudi complained about it,” a spokesperson said, Breitbart News reported. “Netflix’s claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens – not artistic, not political, not comedic.”
The incident is just the latest one in which social media companies and online platforms have faced increased scrutiny from the world’s authoritarian regimes, especially when it comes to speech, the press, and expression.
As for the Saudi government, the press freedom watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders noted recently that the kingdom was ranked 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom, but added that ranking will likely fall after the murder of Khashoggi.
The ranking “will very probably fall even lower in the 2019 index because of the gravity of the violence and abuses of all kinds against journalists,” the group said, Breitbart News reported.
Read more about press censorship at Censorship.news.
Tagged Under: Censorship, episode, Glitch, Hasan Minhaj, Human Rights Watch, information control, Jamal Khashoggi, murder, Netflix, objection, Saudi Arabia, Saudi government, speech police, streaming, Suppressed, tech giants, thought police, Tyranny, YouTube