Last week,Netflix CEO Reed Hastings saidhis company was in the entertainment business, not the “truth to power business . ”
That didn’t go over well, because Hastings was justifying why his company hadcensored one of its shows,Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj, to satisfy the government of Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
On Thursday, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, tried to clarify Hastings’s comments: Netflixisin the truth to power business. It’s just that the truth to power business is also the entertainment business. And taking down shows because a government tells you to do so is part of doing business if you distribute shows around the world.
Does that sound better?
If you were upset by Hastings’s comments – perhaps because you’re against censorship or perhaps because you make TV shows and movies for Netflix – then I’m not sure you’ll be mollified by Sarandos’s edit.
The context: Sarandos was speaking at an event sponsored by the Paley Center in New York City, where he was interviewed bySaturday Night Livecast member Chris Redd (who also appeared in (Disjointed) , a Netflix show that ran for (episodes). Redd referenced last week’s comments from Hastings, which was in reference to Netflix’s move to take down an episode ofPatriot Act, which criticized Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Here’s an excerpt of their discussion:
Chris Redd:Do you think entertainment companies like Netflix are in the business of telling “truth to power?”
Ted Sarandos :I think all entertainment is truth to power, all creative expression is truth to power… it was not a great choice of words , misspoken, whatever…
I think what [Hastings] was getting at is that we’re not really in the breaking news business. I think standup comedy is certainly truth to power. A lot of great films which have changed the course of history, it’s all about truth to power… it [was] just a misuse of words. We’re just not in the breaking news business is what he means. Which we’re comfortable [with]. It’s just not what we do.
We don’t have reporters and editors, we’re not in that business of creating and being great at delivering the news. That’s just not what we do. We’re an entertainment company, primarily. That’s what I think he meant when he said that.
Redd:Hasan’s show is so brilliant. It’s definitely about the news.
Sarandos:Yeah, about the news for sure. But it isn’t the news itself, it’s a digest of it. … It’s more like standup. You’re talking about something… and in that particular case, it was in Saudi Arabia, it ran afoul of the law, in that particular country. That was the context that he was talking about.
That’s one of the challenges, as we are a more global company, different standards and different laws and different regulations, and you have to figure out how to navigate.
Redd:Man, you’re good at this thing.
It’s worth noting that Hastings did say Netflix wouldn’t take down some kinds of programming if the Saudi government complained, like shows that feature gay characters. Also of note: For whatever reason, Netflix has concluded that it can’t do business in China, which has severe content restrictions for internet companies.
But it doesn’t matter whether Netflix thinks that news is different from entertainment or whether things you enjoy watching can also have political messages. What Netflix is saying, consistently, is that it distributes content globally, which means that it has to work with different governments around the world and follow their rules, and that’s not going to change.
That’s not an argument many people want to hear, but it is one you hear all the time, whether it’sApple explaining why it took down an app used by protestors in Hong KongorFacebook taking down videos and posts when they offend Turkey’s censors.
It is also nearly impossible to imagine that changing, since every giant internet company intends to reach as many people as it can. So all of them are going to deal with versions of this problem, no matter how they choose to describe it.