Saudi Arabia and GCC require Netflix to remove content that “violates Islamic values”

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Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf Arab countries issued a joint statement demanding that Netflix remove content they say “violates Islamic and social values ​​and principles,” Saudi media reported.

The statement said the streaming giant’s material violated government regulations, though it made no specific reference to which topics or shows violated those rules.

However, it is widely believed, voiced by local media and officials, that the purpose of the directive is Netflix shows featuring gay characters, same-sex kissing, and sexually portrayed children.

The move was “in light of the recent observation that the platform is broadcasting visuals and content that violates content controls in the Gulf states,” Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media and the GCC Committee of Electronic Media Officials said in a statement Tuesday. .

The content “violates Islamic and social values ​​and principles. As such, the platform has been contacted to remove this content, including content intended for children, and to enforce laws.”

The GCC, or Gulf Cooperation Council, is made up of mostly conservative Muslim-majority states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. Homosexuality is criminalized in these countries and can be punished with fines, imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Authorities have also threatened to sue if Netflix does not comply.

“All legal measures will be taken to protect the sovereignty, citizens and inhabitants of the Kingdom from any intellectual attack aimed at affecting its societies, values, the safety of educating their generations and protecting them from harmful content,” Esra Assery, Director General of the General Commission Saudi Arabia. for audiovisual media, This was reported by the Saudi portal Arab News..

Netflix has yet to publicly respond to the statement and did not comment when it contacted CNBC.

Ban in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabians shop at the Panorama Mall supermarket in the capital Riyadh.

Fayez Nureldin | AFP | Getty Images

Netflix has not responded to the allegations. But many of its users in the US and Europe have welcomed the arrival of LGBTQ+ characters and content on the streaming platform, saying it sets a positive example of inclusiveness and representativeness. Netflix still boasts the highest user count of any pay-per-view streaming service, with around 220 million subscribers worldwide as of June last year.

September 2021 YouGov Poll found that Netflix is ​​the most popular streaming service in Saudi Arabia.with 37% of the kingdom’s residents saying they use it.

Suppression of LGBTQ+ themes

This is far from the first time that authorities in the oil-rich Gulf Arab states have clashed with Western media over homosexual content. In June, the Gulf countries, along with some other countries in East and South Asia, banned cinematic release Disney Pixar’s animated film Lightyear due to its depiction of same-sex relationships and a short same-sex kiss.

And in July, the UAE government ordered e-commerce giant Amazon to block search results for LGBTQ-related products on its UAE website. Shortly before this, Saudi authorities raided several children’s stores to seize rainbow-themed toys. and clothing as part of the fight against homosexuality, state media reported at the time.

Opposition to LGBTQ+ themes is emerging as some countries in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are trying to diversify their economies away from hydrocarbons and attract new investment.

Part of their strategy includes liberalizing reforms and relaxing some previously strict social laws in order to attract talent from other parts of the world. Until 2018, cinemas were banned in Saudi Arabia; they are now being built across the country in connection with these reforms, although censorship of certain content is still in place.

Activists and human rights organizations have long criticized the region’s laws on homosexuality, while its governments object to the laws protecting its religious and cultural norms.

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