Netflix removed 9 shows in total at request of governments; 5 were in Singapore

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Disjointed, a sitcom starring Aaron Moten, Dougie Baldwin and Kathy Bates. Singapore asked Netflix to remove the sitcom about a cannabis dispensary in Los Angeles from its streaming service. (PHOTO: Robert Voets/Netflix)

SINGAPORE — In 23 years of operation, Netflix has taken down just nine TV shows and movies from its streaming service at the behest of governments, the company has disclosed in a report. Five of those takedown requests were made by Singapore alone.

The entertainment giant revealed the censorship demands that it faced for the first time in the report that it released last week, which the company calls its Environmental Social Governance (ESG) report. 

Netflix took down content in specific countries only on the request of their respective governments. For example, in Saudi Arabia, it removed an episode of Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj titled “Saudi Arabia” after a written demand from the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission. The episode had implicated the Saudi Arabian government in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Netflix was criticised for seemingly caving in to pressure from Saudi Arabia for removing the episode.

The majority of the takedown requests came from Singapore. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) asked Netflix to remove five pieces of content in Singapore relating to drug use and religion that it deemed sensitive. These five titles were The Last Hangover, The Last Temptation Of Christ, Cooking On High, The Legend Of 420 and Disjointed.

In response to queries from Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, an IMDA spokesperson said, “Over-the-top service providers in Singapore are expected to abide by IMDA’s Content Code for Over-the-Top, Video-on-Demand and Niche Services, which includes the Classification Ratings. The Content Code serves to protect the young from unsuitable content, maintain community norms and values, and safeguard public interests, while allowing adults to make informed choices.”

Singapore has a strict anti-drug policy, with capital punishment for drug dealers. The city-state also has conservative censorship guidelines under which content related to race, religion and LGBTs are restricted or banned.

Other takedown requests came from Germany (Night Of The Living Dead), New Zealand (The Bridge) and Vietnam (Full Metal Jacket). (See below for the full list of content taken down by Netflix in specific territories.)

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA understands that Netflix will only remove content if it receives written demands from governments. The company treats such written requests as legal demands, and seeks to comply with local laws wherever it operates.

Netflix said in its report, “As more people join Netflix from different countries and cultures, we want to ensure that our workforce is as diverse as the communities we serve. We also understand that as we grow, we have a responsibility to be more transparent about our impact on society and our governance structures.”

“We offer creators the ability to reach audiences all around the world,” Netflix added. “In some cases we’ve also been forced to remove specific titles or episodes of titles in specific countries due to government takedown demands.” 

However, Netflix has challenged some attempts to force it to remove content. In January this year, a Brazilian judge ordered the company to take down The First Temptation Of Christ, a Portuguese-language religious satire in which Jesus is depicted as a gay man. Netflix appealed the judgment and managed to keep the comedy on its platform in the country after Brazil’s Supreme Court overturned the ban.

Netflix plans to release an ESG report annually from now on, which will present the company’s environmental, social, and governance performance each year. Each report will release details on content that is removed upon governments’ orders. 

Here are the nine TV shows and movies removed by Netflix in specific countries, as of February 2020:

  • 2020: The Last Hangover, a religious spoof of the popular Hangover movies, from Brazilian comedy troupe Porta dos Fundos in which Jesus’s disciples wake up after the Last Supper to find him missing, removed in Singapore only, after a written demand from IMDA.

  • 2019: One episode of comedy talk show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj (Saudi Arabia) removed in Saudi Arabia only, after a written demand from the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission.

  • 2019: The Last Temptation Of Christ, a religious drama film by director Martin Scorsese, which is banned in Singapore, removed in Singapore only, after a written demand from the IMDA.

  • 2018: Three pieces of drugs-related content – competitive cannabis cooking show Cooking On High, cannabis documentary The Legend Of 420 and sitcom Disjointed, about a pot dispensary in Los Angeles – removed in Singapore only, after a written demand from the IMDA.

  • 2017: War movie Full Metal Jacket removed in Vietnam only, after a written demand from the Vietnamese Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information (ABEI).

  • 2017: Horror movie Night Of The Living Dead, a version of which is banned in Germany, removed in Germany only, after a written demand from the German Commission for Youth Protection (KJM).

  • 2015: The Bridge, a documentary about suicide attempts on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge that is classified as “objectionable” in New Zealand, removed from the country after a written demand from the New Zealand Film and Video Labeling Body.