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Netflix Takes Down Episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Show in Saudi Arabia (huffingtonpost.com)
209 points by catchmeifyoucan 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

This is the only natural conclusion in a world where sovereign countries legislate the internet according to their values and tech companies follow local laws. Regulatory backlash isn't always going to be GDPR. Sometimes it's going to be this.

Let's also remember "regulatory backlash" can mean something that threatens the personal safety and freedom of a company's employees in that country.

When talking about censorship in these places, we should consider the ethical ramifications of possibly getting someone 'disappeared' for non-compliance.

>the ethical ramifications of possibly getting someone 'disappeared' for non-compliance...

Given recent events vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia, I'm pretty sure that something a whole lot worse than being 'disappeared' happens to you. I hear the authorities there are not above using chainsaws to resolve the differences they might have with you.

Given that 'disappeared' is a euphemism for 'killed and disposed of', that depends on how much worse it is given in the end you still cease to exist on the most meaningful level.

Put another way, is it better if they feed you an exceptional mean before they kill you?

In the end, focusing on the how's instead of the why and the concrete fact they did is just a way for others to to manipulate people into feeling one way or another (or more of either) instead of just taking the hard line that it's unacceptable in any and every form.

Edit: to be clear, I'm not accusing you of manipulating people, just stating that it's just a common tactic in general.

Chainsaws will be your least problem in Saudi torture den (state prison). See Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison

Well yeah Netflix does business in Saudi Arabia so they have to follow the local laws. I honestly don't get why this is so shocking?

What is the alternative- the internet is ruled by US laws? No way in hell would I sign up for that.

The ideal situation is to have freedom of expression. That includes free press. It’s not a concept owned by any country or culture. It’s universlly desirable. You don’t want the government committing acts of violence against you for your speech. The lack of this freedom is morally abhorrent and condemnation-worthy.

> What is the alternative- the internet is ruled by US laws

Your notions of national sovereignty and individual freedom are so terrible, I don’t know if I should even respond.

Individual sovereignty supersedes governmental authority in a civil-libertarian moral-political framework. No government has any sort of moral right to be violent against a person for speech.

And the concept of national sovereignty is a farce. Countries like China and SA are not even democracies, so by respecting their “sovereignty” you’re respecting the minorities in power over those countries.

But even democracies have absolutely no right to claim sovereignty — having 60% of a country’s vote will never legitimize erasing fundamental human freedoms. (Or else everything the NSDAP did would be morally A-OK.)

A general moral operating principle to apply when analyzing political issues is the “zero aggression principle”: https://www.zeroaggressionproject.org

That's all fine and dandy from a philosophical standpoint, but the practical matter is that Netflix has two choices:

- remove the content - face legal repercussions (likely ending in not being able to do business in SA or being forced to do the first option)

SA can enforce its will through military force, and that's about the most practical claim to sovereignty you can get.

Also, is there a practical difference between the NAP and the ZAP?

> the internet is ruled by

no one is what i think they are getting at

Anarchy? Cool. But I really wonder how many people want to live with the consequences of that.

Just curious, do you have same opinion when the country in question is China?

First time I've heard of the show. I watched about 20 minutes ... pretty good. The style reminds me of Samantha B ... political commentary sprinkled with humor.

The style is very formulaic in my opinion. Find something outrageous someone said or did or contradicting themself, then say "that would be like if..." And make an extreme analogy usually with crude or sexual humor.

Personally, it's tiring and the information density is too low. And sometimes the logic of the analogy doesn't work, and they pretend the analogy proves something even though analogies never do, they can only be used to illustrate.

Oliver, Bee, all thr political comedy shows do the same thing. I can't figure out if I think Jon Stewart's show was better or if I was just younger and not tired of that style yet.

I think John Stewart’s show was a little more intelligent. His discussion with Jim Cramer comes to mind - he actually convinced him and Jim changed his show noticeably afterwards.

These newer shoes exist mainly to speak to the already converted.

why is information density a meaningful metric for comedy? i agree with the rest of your point, it's formulaic and repetitive at this point

I guess it's not, but the way the shows are structured, such as Oliver's and Minhaj's they seem to be partly educational where they try to summarize a topic, but it's frequently missing relevant information so I don't get anything out of that aspect of the show either. Audience ideally shouldn't be expecting a news comedy show to be a complete source of information.

Information density is an interesting thing to expect from an entertainment show. Not even a regular news show is informationally dense.

There's a pretty long tradition of political standup, which is what I take Minhaj's act to be. Lewis Black, Will Durst, Lenny Bruce of course, Mort Sahl (who is said by some to be the first modern standup comic), and Will Rogers all relied on current events and commentary for their routines. This doesn't even touch on the much larger (and mainstream) community of riffers like Vaughn Meader, David Frye, Rich Little, etc.

I think it's much more entertaining than Samantha B myself.

It's Samantha Bee. That's her name.

> political commentary sprinkled with humor.

I think you're right about their shows, but both Hasan Minhaj and Samantha Bee are comedians, so why are we entrusting political commentary to comedians?

Being neutral on any spectrum, Richard Pryor and George Carlin are socially accepted as two of the greatest comdeians of this time and they spoke on politics often. If doing so does anything, it accomplishes bringing awareness to bigger issues to an audience who it may not normally be exposed to.

Under the harshest rulers, very often the only person allowed to speak truth to power is the buffoon.

The same reason we trust it to anyone else. I’ve never understood the “he/she is a comedian therefore unfit to comment on serious matters.

I think we have all seen comedians shoehorn their version of values into their routine and come off unfunny and preachy. It turns out comedians write about what they think about. Even Carlin childed comedians who put their politics first. Its more a matter of You have to be funny First.

> Its more a matter of You have to be funny First.

Exactly, but then being funny renders you unable to talk about anything but funny stuff.

Because much of the best comedy is about real life, which often involves politics.

This is perhaps reductive, but maybe we should treat these shows as exposure to a certain viewpoint and nothing more: You are still absolutely free to make up your own mind on a given matter.

Political Commentary is also not something to be rationed - as per se, it would be extremely misguided (and illegal, in the US) to regulate who can be televised on a given matter (Although I assume that you mean "we" as in society rather than the state?)

simillary UK censor HBO's Last Week Tonight show when it reports about uk parliament


That’s a bit different in the U.K. official parliament footage isn’t allowed to be used for satire or anything other than news reporting.

This was more of a copyright claim than censorship.

They could literarily have broadcast the same thing with muppets instead of the official footage and that would’ve been ok and a large part of wishes they had done just that.

“We wanted to show you footage from the House of Commons but due to a 1743 law we can’t so here it is reenacted with sock puppets...”

This would’ve been even better in my book.

>This was more of a copyright claim than censorship.

Copyright claims that result in reduced access to media are censorship.

As someone who has lived under a dictatorship, there is a difference. Laws in "democratic" countries and dictatorships don't differ so much. The difference is how they are enforced and what recourse you as a citizen have. In a dictatorship, the government rules that a show/film/song violates the law. No one not willing to go to jail challenges it. In a democracy, you are free to post a rant or picket because you disagree with the ruling. You are probably allowed to appeal the ruling and you wont disappear if you do appeal the ruling. It may look like both the UK and Saudi are censoring the media but I can definitely tell you it is not the same thing.

Sure, there are definitely different degrees of censorship. Sometimes it happens for good reason -- slander, libel, inciting violence, exposing children to pornography. Sometimes it happens for bad reasons -- to suppress different opinions, to intimidate individuals, or simply to exert undue power over another one for monetary gain.

But censorship is censorship, and when we refuse to call it by its name, we allow ourselves to forget that there is a powerful force controlling what we can see and consume. That kind of power must be checked, and checked always, and we must constantly re-affirm our consent to that power just as often.

Look I don't know why the UK does not allow parlianmentary footage to be used in anything other news/documentary programs. I have to admit I don't see this as totally unreasonable. Like all laws they are pros and cons to the law. Since footage is available to public just not in movie there is nothing stopping you viewing the footage. That surely cannot be sensorship but some sort of ill defined copyright application. I am not sure I want to public funds to create footage for movie makers to use to push their own agendas.

Free to rant and picket is not free. If your government does not represent its people, holding signs and yelling is not recourse.

This claim didn’t reduce access to media, this isn’t censorship as they couldn’t care less about the actual message or tried to block it on political grounds.

This is HBO likely not being familiar with obscure British legislation as some others have pointed out they had to use dogs instead of actual SCTOUS footage as there is a US law that forbids footage of the Supreme Court from being used.

The fact that you even consider this censorship only proves you likely never experienced what true censorship means.

There is no Supreme Court footage at all. They refuse to allow cameras in the chamber.

There’s no law enforcing this except those which give the judges full control over their proceedings. They could let CNN in tomorrow if they so decided.

That's all copyright claims. Are you sure you want to define it that way?

The speech isn't being restricted. The background footage is.

Even if it is a stupid law.

Thanks I was going to respond and say the same thing.

> "This was more of a copyright claim than censorship."

Why should taxpayer-funded creations be copyrighted? They should be in the public domain by default, like in the U.S.


The us also has special rules such as the fact you can't show photos or videos of the supreme court sessions.

This stuff is just generally odd.

While I don’t disagree with the notion that this is stupid. I disagree with the equivalence to censorship it’s a stupid old law, not means to silence political opinion they could’ve called each MP a cunt for 30 min and aired it just fine.

HBO just didn’t realized it when making this programme, they have had to avoid other similar limitations by using dogs instead of supreme justices due to similar restrictions in the US.

They've done something simular with the SCOTUS and dogs, so it wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

Semantics. You can call it whatever you want, but it’s censorship.

No it’s not, this has nothing to do with the political message of the content, they could’ve shown anything they wanted heck they could’ve shown a 30min footage of someone calling TM a cunt and that would not have been censored.

It is, however: For better or worse, British political media is regulated. Around election time, for example, Purdah bans all political advertising apart from allocated x minute slots

>Purdah bans all political advertising apart from allocated x minute slots

I wish we would adopt this, not that I watch live television anymore though but plenty of people still do.

"Joe Smith once let his dog crap on a lawn, Joe did not pick it up, do you want Joe in office? Paid for by the committee to help the group to help the council to elect Jane Doe"

Next commercial break

"Jane Doe uses 3 cans of hairspray a week yet claims to care about the environment. Jane only cares about her hair. Paid for the by the cabal to support the organization of the committee of electing Joe Smith'.

Is the law really from 1743? I mean, it can make sense, but I would find it interesting if the law was really that old

1628, at least, and, with some help from Samuel Johnson,

> In 1738 the Commons fought back, declaring that it was a "high indignity and a notorious breach of privilege" to report what was said in the Chamber, even when it was in recess. [0]

[0] https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofp...

They have laws going back over 700 years:


“The chapters currently valid are c.1, c.4, and c.15 (often referred to as the Distress Act 1267),[10] which seek to govern the recovery of damages ("distresses") and make it illegal to obtain recompense for damages other than through the courts, and c.23 (the Waste Act 1267),[11] which seeks to prevent tenant farmers from "making waste" to land they are in tenancy of.”

British democracy is brilliant, moronic, childish and wise: Many laws are indeed that old

No I pulled that one out of my ass but surprisingly wasn’t that far off.

That's exactly what John Oliver did in the Brexit Update video a few weeks ago: https://youtu.be/MdHmp5EX5bE

This is why Saudi Arabia is trying to buy up tech and especially social media (Snap, Twitter)

I think the simplest explanation is likely the right one: the writing is on the wall for oil in this century. Tech is a sensible investment.

I don’t think oil is going anywhere any time soon. Even if vehicles were suddenly completely electric in 20 years and all power generation no longer required fossil fuels, we still have things like jet fuel, asphalt, and plastics that require petroleum.

Not saying the saudis aren’t forward thinking about what to do when demand decreases, but so many folks do believe that oil = cars and going electric means we don’t need oil.

You start to diversify 30 or 40 years before the catastrophe. If they wait for oil to be valueless before investing in anything else, they will discover they don't have anything of value to invest anymore.

All of which sum to significantly less than current demand when used for ground transportation and heating/cooling. Would not be surprised if this followed the 80/20 rule.

I don’t think that’s why they do it. It this wouldn’t be a viable strategy. I think that they have other reasons.

Definitely part of it is them trying to latch on to new industries so they don’t go kaput when the oil runs out. But I do think they want seats on boards of tech companies so they can push their agendas too.

Aside, I would like to see the actual justification behind how the episode constitutes cyber crime aside from “because we said so”

their agenda seems to be to make more money.

Obviously but I’m implying they also want to censor and push their own narratives. Related to Manufacturing Consent, what they’re doing is trying to push their narrative biases in media through ownership

Data is the new oil.

They're also buying up a lot of transportation infrastructure like toll roads in the US

No I think they had piles of money and no better ideas where to stash it.

oil is the new data

I hadn't watched it but thanks to this I am gonna watch it now.

Ahhh, the old Streisand Effect.

They don't care if you watch it, they care if people in Saudi Arabia watch it.

I’m sure they care more than that. Global opinion matters, especially if it can influence policy makers, particularly citizens in the western developed countries.

>Global opinion matters...

Not so sure about this?

Reality is, MBS can do whatever he wants, global opinion or no global opinion. That's been made pretty clear recently.

I mean really, who's gonna stop him?

Popular uprisings aren’t exactly uncommon in the Middle East.

That's only partially true, in a world so communicated a lot of people are going to contact their friends living in Saudi Arabia and tell them what they think about the film, a lot will see this news on reddit or elsewhere and realize its being censored.

I'm pretty sure a lot more than that one show is censored in Saudi Arabia..

They only care that MBS shouldn't watch it or learns about it and get upset. Everything is low cost enough to make happen for that risk!

Now, Minaj should not visit any consulate in Middle East even if he have to

This usually just gives a streisand effect

For those who want to see the episode


This is very predictable. What I find strange is how the episode "aired" in Saudi Arabia in the first place. From what I've heard they censor all the media.

Not that it makes it any better, but they only took down the episode in Saudi Arabia, not globally. The headline makes it sound like they took down the episode altogether.

> Not that it makes it any better

That makes it substantially better.

Changes the entire headline.

How? It's still censorship.

This must be a facetious comment. You don't see how it being only banned in Saudi Arabia is not as bad as Saudi Arabia complaining and having it taken down worldwide?

Plus, Saudia Arabia is not known as a bastion of personal liberty. But that's besides the point; they are completely entitled to perform censorship within their own borders. It's simply your opinion (which I happen to agree with, but it is not a fact nonetheless) that it's bad for them to have censored it within their own country.

I think it’s problematic. The fact it’s only censored inside Saudi Arabia means it doesn’t impact me directly. That being said, as the saudis continue investing in the west, in social media, in other Silicon Valley start ups, I don’t want there to be any chance these traditions (which I consider oppression) could seep up into my or my children’s way of life.

Eieus regio cuius religio has been replaced with individual liberty. Westphalia was a mistake.

Yes, it is censorship that respects local traditions.

It's not unreasonable for a sovereign country to exercise control over legal media in its territory.

It might not be just, or fair, for residents of that country, but it is reasonable.

A government exercising control over the media in its country is a very clear-cut violation of the value of free-speech.

The moral question is whether American companies should help foreign governments shut down free-speech. Just like google in China. And the consensus seems to be "No."

America controls the limits of commercial free speech in countries around the world through its control of Visa and Mastercard. American standards (by which I mean limits) on free speech are exported and controlled by limiting what credit card companies are willing to permit to be sold.

The consensus appears to be no among people with no power to effect those decisions. The consensus among legislators and members of the public who could change the minds of legislators is quite different.

Every country has rules about what you can show on television. Some countries are extremely liberal (Denmark, the Netherlands) others less so.

It’s not all or nothing. While a takedown is bad (and illustrative of some real problems in Saudi.) Netflix having a presence in Saudi let’s them spread their media and worldview into that country/culture. Unilaterally disengaging just gives Saudi people less access to a roughly liberal and western source of culture.

What we (speaking as a fan of western still liberalism and rule of law) in the west need is to be better able to provide a full throated explanation and defense of our principles and value prop. There seems to be a very real movement toward an alternative authoritarian world view based on the promise of prosperity and stability through social control, social control that takes full advantage of the enormous surveillance and monitoring capabilities of modern technology.

Free speech doesn't make sense if you aren't a democracy. Public speech the government officially disagrees with is incitement of rebellion. In a democracy, there isn't this existential threat to the country. Given that you are a dictatorship, regulating speech to avoid insurrection is morally right.

> And the consensus seems to be "No."

Consensus is completely irrelevant when answering a moral question, unless it instrumentally affects the moral calculus.

Hey, let's not overstep and say that dictators are "morally right" to stop free speech. Legally right, perhaps, but come now, Western democracies would laugh at saying decorators keeping peace is "moral". In fact, they'd argue the opposite. That dictators should morally step down and cede power to the people.

You are not in charge of “overstepping.” If dictators don’t stop free speech, a revolution will happen, and the country will go to shit. I have already given the precondition that the country is a dictatorship.

We have the U.S.S.R., Arab Spring, and the French Revolution as fine examples of the country going to shit.

If you’re a dictator and want to transition your country to democracy (I’m not sure why you’d call that morally good, but let’s go with it), you don’t make the first thing you do to allow free speech. Free speech shouldn’t come until after you have elections.

If free speech means 'going to shit', by all means, pour it on.

Ah, the "burn it all down" school of moral philosophy.

In the old days people despised the imprimatur and smuggled banned works in. Today?


I agree it would be way worse if Saudi Arabia had the power to censor globally. If only Netflix would remove VPN restrictions so people can still access it within the country. It was a great episode!

This doesn't impede the Streisand Effect taking place right now though, which is the real story here. Not sure how many views the video had prior to the takedown but now it's at ~1.2 million and is probably to going to be at 3x that by the end of the week.

Youtube, Netflix, Amazon frequently take down content for countries. So it’s really nothing new. I mean, I don’t like the 15k takedowns listed in google’s annual report [0] for example. But it’s no longer newsworthy.

It’s entirely within companies’ ability to not comply but it means pulling out of the US or Saudi Arabia or whatever country is making demands.

In the 90s the dream of Sealand is that it would allow companies to not be forced to do stuff like take down content. That didn’t work out. Mostly because I think companies enjoy making more money the easier way.

[0] https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/ov...

Alright, we edited the title to clarify that.

I’m canceling my Netflix account

Are you also going to renounce your citizen ship and leave the planet?


We've banned this account for repeatedly breaking the site guidelines and ignoring our requests to stop.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.


"Thank you, next"


What does that have to do with a private company removing an episode of a tv show for users in a single country

Question: C-Corp vs Public-Benefit companies in similar situations.

As I understand it Netflix really doesn't have the option of taking a principled stand here (let me know if I'm wrong) due its financial responsibilities toward shareholders.

If they had incorporated as a public-benefit corporation would they have additional freedom to say "We won't participate in this market on ethical grounds?"

There is no law (in any jurisdiction, as far as I know) that states a corporation must relentlessly pursue profits. An owner is free to stay out of markets for moral or other reasons without any strategic or financial justification. The only thing stopping them would be other shareholders who disagree. Private, public, public-benefit, etc... doesn't matter.

How does this square with the principle of shareholder primacy and Dodge v Ford?


This is going to sound condescending but I really don't mean it to be, I just couldn't think of a better way to phrase this:

Did you read the bottom half of the entry's summary or the entry itself? Specifically:

> In the 1950s and 1960s, states rejected Dodge repeatedly

> The general legal position today is that the business judgment that directors may exercise is expansive. Management decisions will not be challenged where one can point to any rational link to benefiting the corporation as a whole.

and quotes from a number of law journals:

> Dodge is often misread or mistaught as setting a legal rule of shareholder wealth maximization. This was not and is not the law.

> the rule of wealth maximization for shareholders is virtually impossible to enforce as a practical matter. The rule is aspirational, except in odd cases.

That is very interesting, thank you. I am not a lawyer so anything I say is amateur speculation, but it seems like that case rules mostly on Ford's ability to arbitrarily reduce profit to shareholders by reducing or removing dividends, not necessarily acting in the public interest. This goes back to what I said earlier about a corporation being free to act in the public interest as long as the shareholders don't mind, as then there is no injured party.

There is no such requirement!

[a potential threat of] shareholders bringing suits makes to some extent up for such a requirement.

Not really. Such lawsuits aren't really a thing.

Wall Street Journal says there were a record number of Shareholder lawsuits in 2017 for reasons including disappointing earnings. Nearly 10% of traded companies faced one that year. It kind of seems like “a thing.”


Edit: 2017, not this year

The snippet I can see says:

> When pharmaceutical company Depomed Inc. of the U.S. said this month it is fielding federal and state inquiries over its marketing of opioid painkillers, a stock drop was likely to follow.

> But it was less expected, legal experts say, that shareholders would then sue the company for securities-law violations, alleging that Depomed made false and misleading statements over a more than two-year period leading up to the Aug. 7 announcement in its earnings statement.

A lawsuit about making false statements is entirely different than a lawsuit saying a company is insufficiently profit-seeking. Unless the article broke down how many of those record lawsuits were actually over low earnings (which I can't tell), I don't think this shows anything.

I don’t believe it broke out the earnings cases, but they were significant enough to feature in the article (even in the subtitle, which you can see). No one claimed the opening example in the article was speaking directly to your point. I only did a simple google search about it because you offered no evidence to support your claim, and the results I got suggest to me that it is entirely possible to face shareholder suits if you retreat from a market rather than staying and continuing to make profits. I’m not interested enough in the topic to research it any further.

I think I disagree with you a little even regarding false statements suits, though: Just as a thought experiment: let’s say you lose millions in company X stock because they pull out of a market you think they should have stayed in. I would think going through the company’s public statements and claiming that you were mislead about their commitment to said market would be a decent angle from which to attack them. But that’s just thinking out loud, and I am no lawyer.

The number of filings is irrelevant: I can sue NASA for not building a space station on the moon, it doesn’t mean it won’t be thrown out. The article is paywalled so I can’t see if it reports the number that actually matters, i.e. wins.

From the same article: “Of cases filed from 1997 to 2016, according to Cornerstone, 48% have been settled, 42% have been dismissed and 10% are continuing.“ It later says median settlements range from $2.6 to $13.9 million depending on how far the suit gets and how established the firms are. Another interesting thing was that, recently, most of these suits come from individuals rather than institutional investors.

Kinda odd that so many companies pay money for fairness opinions (M&A, capital raising, major transactions) that specifically identify fairness from solely a "Financial" point of view to shareholders. I always thought it was to avoid lawsuits.

I don't think they are asserting that shareholders never can successfully sue companies, just that a company making a business decision that doesn't maximize profit is not something shareholders can successfully sue over.

baybal2 5 months ago [flagged]

This is so reprehensible! They must champion political freedom fighters! They should've let their business in Saudi Arabia to go down to make a big statement.

Please don't post unsubstantive comments here, and especially not flamebait.

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