Here’s something that happens when profit is the highest motive. The big content streaming companies aren’t what they used to be. Netflix in particular deserves opprobrium, which goes to the larger policy issue beyond what’s reported in this story from the NY Times about all the major streaming platforms taking a pass on an important documentary covering the Saudi government’s horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
For instance, the Times reports that in January 2019, Netflix pulled an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s series, “Patriot Act,” when he criticized the Saudi Crown Prince after Mr. Khashoggi’s death. Netflix’s CEO defended the action, saying: “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power.’ We’re trying to entertain.” Then, in November, Netflix signed a deal with Saudi Arabian studio Telfaz11 to produce movies Netflix said “will aim for broad appeal across both Arab and global audiences.” No coincidence here, eh?
In addition to allowing tax deductions for martini lunches, one of the Christmas presents US Congress just gave big streaming companies was a new law making it a felony to illegally stream video content. In traditional Congressional Ministry of Truth-speak, it’s titled the “Protecting Lawful Streaming Act.” Burying it in the 5,000-plus page coronavirus relief bill was particularly rich.
I couldn’t help but connect Congress’s lovely gift to content creators and platforms with Netflix’s refusal to put information critical of the Saudi government on its platform. If we’re going to engage federal law enforcement, prosecutors, and the courts to protect these corporate interests, maybe those same companies ought to do some public service by providing important documentaries on their platforms.
The FCC used to apply the “fairness doctrine” to radio and television broadcasts. Might it be worth exploring a similar approach to content streaming services? Ironically, I think the companies might find it would boost their long-term success. People love controversy, right?