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Netflix reveals the 9 times it has complied with government censorship

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Patriot Act, Full Metal Jacket, Night of the Living Dead, and more were all pulled

an Indian man in a gray sweater, Hasan Minhaj, holds up his hand on Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
This is probably the exact look on Hasan Minhaj’s face when he found out Netflix removed an episode of Patriot Act in January 2019 at Saudi Arabia’s behest.
Photo: Cara Howe/Netflix

Netflix has taken down nine titles in its history due to demands from various governments around the world, the company announced Friday, offering a window into the complications of running a worldwide streaming service with a vast breadth of content.

Based in Los Gatos, California, Netflix is increasingly a global company: At the end of 2019, the streaming giant counted more than 167 million subscribers across more than 190 countries. (The only major exception is China.) When you offer movies and TV shows to customers around the world, at some point it becomes inevitable that someone, somewhere, will not be happy with something on your platform. But aside from a few isolated cases that made the news, the public hasn’t known about the occasions on which Netflix has been forced to pull something at the behest of a particular government.

The company, which launched in 1998 as a DVDs-by-mail rental service, began offering streaming video on demand for U.S. customers in 2007. Netflix expanded its streaming service to Canada in 2010, but it wasn’t until the following year that it truly started to become a global force, debuting in dozens of Latin American countries in late 2011 and rolling out across the U.K. and Scandinavia over the course of 2012.

As Netflix’s worldwide growth continued during the past decade, the company began to run afoul of local cultures and governments. The nine written takedown demands that Netflix revealed Friday — in its first Environmental Social Governance report, produced to demonstrate the company’s compliance with standards set by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board — have all come from 2015 onward, and originated from five countries: five from Singapore, and one each from Germany, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. In each case, Netflix pulled the content only in the particular country. The company said that starting in 2021, it will report these notices on an annual basis.

We already knew about one of the most controversial censorship demands sent to Netflix: In 2018, the Saudi Arabian government took exception to an episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj that examined the United States’ history with the country. The episode criticized the Middle Eastern nation for its killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — and focused on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who allegedly ordered the assassination. In January 2019, Netflix removed the episode from its platform in Saudi Arabia, although it remained available in the country on YouTube.

Here’s the full list of takedown demands Netflix has received:

• In 2015, we complied with a written demand from the New Zealand Film and Video Labeling Body to remove The Bridge from the service in New Zealand only. The film is classified as “objectionable” in the country.

• In 2017, we complied with a written demand from the Vietnamese Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information (ABEI) to remove Full Metal Jacket from the service in Vietnam only.

• In 2017, we complied with a written demand from the German Commission for Youth Protection (KJM) to remove Night of the Living Dead from the service in Germany only. A version of the film is banned in the country.

• In 2018, we complied with a written demand from the Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to remove Cooking on High, The Legend of 420, and Disjointed from the service in Singapore only.

• In 2019, we complied with a written demand from the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission to remove one episode—“Saudi Arabia”—from the series Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj from the service in Saudi Arabia only.

• In 2019, we received a written demand from the Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to remove The Last Temptation of Christ from the service in Singapore only. The film is banned in the country.

• In 2020, we complied with a written demand from the Singapore Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to remove The Last Hangover from the service in Singapore only.