The exterior of Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California. Image Credit:

Just over three months ago, a rogue gang of Saudis murdered and dismembered a prominent Saudi journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was living in self-imposed exile in the US was at the consulate to facilitate some documents for his impending marriage to his Turkish fiancee.

The uproar that followed was unprecedented in modern day journalism. Just about every media outlet attacked Saudi Arabia in one form or another before the facts had barely begun to emerge. Three months on, and after a thorough investigation by the Saudi public prosecutor, the death penalty is being sought for at least five of the 11 defendants. Justice will prevail.

Yet another piece of news has avalanched again into another global condemnation of the Saudis. This time it was no grotesque murder. It was simply a request by the relevant Saudi authorities to Netflix, the leading global provider of TV shows and movies that are streamed into the device of your choice over the internet. The Saudi authorities had requested that a particular comedy show highly critical of the country be not televised.

A Saudi media regulator in making the request cited the specifics of the law that prohibits the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers.”

Netflix in response agreed, adding, “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”

Offensive material removed

Nothing wrong with that as it is perfectly within the rights of a country to request that offensive material is removed for the good of all its residents. Such requests are not something new, as many countries do ask that certain programmes or news features that project their image in an unfair manner be stopped from distribution. Netflix agreed and it should have remained just that.

This is not the first time that Netflix has removed episodes of a show at the request of a foreign government. A Netflix spokesperson stated that more recently Singapore objected to three Netflix shows relating to drug use because they had a positive portrayal of drug use which is highly restricted in the country. Netflix complied to the Singaporean authorities’ request.

But no! Immediately the vanguards of human rights and self-pundits of democratic values took to the air or in print to criticise the decision and renew their attacks on the kingdom just as it was beginning to emerge from the repugnant affair surrounding the murdered journalist. From Australia to England, from Greece to the US shores, almost all news outlets soundly criticised the decision, with many calling it an act of censorship and a great injustice to human rights. Be it the BBC, or the New York Times, or even the Sydney Morning Herald, they were all collectively vociferous in their indignation over the decision by Netflix to agree to drop that particular episode.

Even global human rights organisations got into the act, bitterly attacking Netflix and the Saudis for a “gross violation of censorship and human rights.”

Such hypocrisy is enough to make me puke. Since Khashoggi was murdered more than three months ago, 37 innocent Palestinians were brutally murdered by Israeli occupation forces for no reason other than being just Palestinians.

Seventeen Palestinian children had to be amputated since October as it has now become a favourite pastime of Israeli snipers to shoot down protesters to maim rather than kill, a mark of continual suffering. Hundreds of Palestinians were forcibly evicted from their homes. Health care personnel have been murdered by Israeli forces and even journalists covering the brutality of the Israeli regime have not been spared.

The illegal Jewish colonists have been encouraged to increase their brazen attacks on farms and residences belonging to Palestinians in a bid to strike fear and drive them out of their homeland. Their olive groves are burnt down to the ground, their means of sustenance destroyed.

But do we see or hear this on BBC or the New York Times? Not even a small byline in the back of news columns or a passing snippet on television. These are grotesque crimes that continue to go unreported, and yet it is the Saudis who are called on the carpet. Where are the voices of condemnation from human rights agencies against what is going on in Israel today? Why cannot I hear the thunder of such criticism?

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.