Netflix’s Global Platform: Finding the Balance Between Censorship and AccessJanuary 22, 2019
As American companies expand into the markets of other countries, they are tasked with learning how to adhere to those countries’ laws and customs while preserving the integrity of their services and goals. For instance, Google has come under fire for trying to release a version of their search engine in China that complied with Chinese censorship laws. Critics pointed to Google’s decision in the past to withdraw their platform from China, and decried Google’s decision as hypoctitial and complicit with human rights violations. Google has defended their project, essentially saying that acquiescing to censorship laws was better than denying millions of Chinese internet users from access to their platform.
Recently, Netflix has also come under such scrutiny. Serving 190 of the world’s 195 countries — China is among the five countries in which Netflix is not yet offered — Netflix is among the world’s leading streaming services. With such a massively diverse base of subscribers, it is inevitable that Netflix would offer its services in countries that do not have the same views on censorship and free speech as the United States.
Saudi Arabia and India are two such nations.
Netflix pulled an episode of “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj” after the Saudi Arabian government stated that the episode violated its cybercrime laws. The episode was critical of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and questioned the United States’ ties with the Saudi government following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
With such a massively diverse base of subscribers, it is inevitable that Netflix would offer its services in countries that do not have the same views on censorship and free speech as the United States. dpri
Netflix has also signed a “Code of Best Practices” with respect to its content in India. The company, along with eight other media organizations, agreed to voluntarily ban content that “deliberately and maliciously disrespects the national emblem or national flag,” offends “religious sentiments of any class, section, or community,” “promotes or encourages terrorism and other forms of violence against the State (of India) or its institutions,” among others.
In both instances, Netflix was widely criticized for its decisions to regulate its content in these countries. As with Google, critics — including from within the company — argued that Netflix’s decisions yield to censorship laws and support governments that routinely violate human rights laws. Netflix has maintained that it is simply complying with local laws.
In such situations, companies like Netflix face three options: either refuse to follow the laws of the nation in which it wants to offer its services and risk its platform being banned altogether; refuse to offer its platform in countries that heavily regulate media content and risk alienating entire populations from their services; or pull only the offending content from the censoring countries and be criticized for yielding to cenship laws. From the company’s standpoint, the last option is the best middle ground. The offending content is still available in other nations and pulled from the country where it would violate media laws. Meanwhile, Netflix is still able to collect revenue from these countries, whose residents can still have access to the streaming service. In an increasingly globalized world, where American companies want foreign dollars, perhaps this is the only option.
Mariah Ahmed, 21 January 2019