Netflix has been forced to drop an episode of Patriot Act in Saudi Arabia after a strong objection from the Kingdom rulers. In the episode, Hasan Minhaj makes fun of Saudi Arabia for attempting to disown the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
With a straight face, the Saudi regime for a long time claimed that they had no hand in the murder. A series of contradictory claims and denials came even as evidence emerged that Khashoggi’s murder was in fact ordered by crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
“This is the most unbelievable cover story since Blake Shelton won sexiest man alive,” Minhaj joked to his audience in the episode. But Saudi Arabia is not laughing.
Hasan Minhaj also labeled the ongoing war in Yemen as “the biggest tragedy of the MBS era”. He further condemned Silicon Valley for ‘swimming in Saudi cash’ and advised tech companies to avoid Saudi investment.
For a country that does not tolerate any criticism, the demand to bring down the episode was a natural reaction. The press freedom watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders, has placed Saudi Arabia as 169th out of 180 countries for press freedom. It went on to predict that the ranking will fall ever lower as 2019 progresses.
By bowing down to Saudi Arabia and agreeing to remove the Patriot Act episode, Netflix has compromised on artistic freedom. It has also set a very dangerous precedent. When it decided to air the episode, Netflix knew that the satire was based on truth. There was no way that Netflix would have gone ahead with it, had there been any doubt about MbS’ involvement. After all, nothing happens in the Kingdom without the approval of the Crown Prince, least of all an incident of such magnitude.
It simply succumbed to pressure, maybe even some kind of threat. One thing is for sure, this is not going to go down well with the subscribers, who will recognise that Netflix failed to uphold freedom of expression and caved in to bullying. Some even said they will cancel their subscription.
What Saudi Arabia fails to realise is that by forcing Netflix to bring it down, the Patriot Act episode has achieved way more popularity than ever. Many of those who had not seen how Hasan Minhaj made fun of Saudi Arabia will now do so. It has given it global traction.
As far as the common Saudis go, many have already watched it while it was still accessible in the Kingdom. MbS should have just left it alone. Like he should have left Khashoggi alone.