Netflix Seeks Growth Abroad, Bumps into Local Censorship

Streaming services have operated worldwide, largely untouched by local censorship laws. As Netflix expands, however, it’s starting to encounter local sensitivities. So far, the company has experienced the impact of local laws in Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia. In its 2018 annual report, among business risks, Netflix listed “censorship” and “the need to adapt our content and users interfaces for specific cultural and language differences.” But with subscriber growth plateaued at home, Netflix must seek expansion abroad.

The New York Times reports that in Turkey, where Netflix previously operated outside the country’s Radio and Television Supreme Council’s rules, the company was required to seek a license. If awarded one, Netflix will have to comply with the Council’s rules.

That includes a ban on programming that is “contrary to the national and moral values of the society,” “encourage[s] the use of addictive substances,” “glorif[ies] committing a crime,” is obscene or uses slang or “poor quality use” of Turkish. Turkish networks have been fined for “everything from excessive kissing to alcohol.”

In India, “Netflix has been embroiled in debates around regulation and censorship.” Although it is not subject to India’s movie theater rules, in 2017 it still offered “Angry Indian Goddesses,” in a censored form that had been released in movie theaters, “to avoid a backlash from religious viewers.” Instead, it got complaints from viewers who wanted to see the uncensored version.

Netflix attorney Gowree Gokhale reported that “the company had been named in three court cases over streaming services in India in which members of the public have called for streaming services to be regulated like Indian movie theaters, with government oversight and age restrictions on some content.” Netflix has also signed a “voluntary agreement … promising not to show content that ‘deliberately and maliciously’ outrages religions or insults the national flag.”

Saudi Arabia asked Netflix to block an episode of “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” that criticized the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the country. In Turkey, Netflix has tweeted that the government has not requested any content censorship, and is in discussions with its Radio and Television Supreme Council about “how to further strengthen our parental controls.”

Daily newspaper Hurriyet former editor-in-chief Ertuğrul Özkök, however, isn’t sanguine about Netflix’s chances of escaping censorship, noting that it will likely be required to remove LGBT content. Other Turkish newspapers, however, complained about Netflix content with “messages to normalize homosexuality,” pointing to “Orange Is the New Black,” “Black Mirror” and “Money Heist,” among others.