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The era of streaming: when Netflix, HBO or Movistar withdraw titles to avoid controversies

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Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

In episodes of the third season of ‘The Good Fight’ is including an animated music video that explains some legal term used by the characters or put some reference in context. In ‘The One Where Kurt Saves Diane’, the last episode that premiered CBS All Access, the video in question is replaced by a black screen in which the text is superimposed: CBS has censored this content.

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At first we thought that this was a fun meta comment, but according to some media reports, it was a creative solution for those responsible for the series, after the division of Standard and Practices of the network expressed its reservations about the subject they were talking about. That issue was the tactics used by some companies in the United States to enter the Chinese market: bowing to their laws of censorship, while proclaiming themselves as defenders of freedom of expression in the rest of the world.

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This type of censorship in television series has always existed, and as we see in the previous example, are still valid. We only found out about them when the creators commented on it in an interview, like this one by Shonda Rhimes, in which he said that an episode of ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ a few weeks ago came up with notes from ABC’s Standard and Practices division, in which they were urged to eliminate some words and plans during a scene in which the forensic evaluation of a rape was carried out (rape kit). In this case, Rhimes managed to shoot the scene as planned, privilege that did not count in the first seasons of the series, which did not allow him to say the word vagina or raise plots about abortions.

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In the cinema the same thing happens with the Cinematographic Association of the United States, the agency in charge of granting the age rating certificate for the distribution in movie theaters. The documentary ‘The censors of Hollywood’ denounces some of the criteria that are used to qualify the films, which demonstrate the hypocrisy of a system that vetoes a plane of the face of a woman who reaches orgasm and not a violent scene in which she suffers a violation

Another practice, perhaps less known to the general public, is to edit censored versions of the films for inclusion in airline catalogs. Distributors in Hollywood and around the world have reissued and continue to reissue their films to eliminate or soften scenes of sexual content or too violent to be seen by any passenger.

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All this shows us that, although we are entering the second decade of the 21st century and in territories that are not under a dictatorship, censorship continues to play a role in the distribution of audiovisual products. With many reservations we can get to understand that some of these restrictions are still applied to general television, but we assume that these do not apply to streaming platforms, to which we attribute a total freedom of content. A freedom is a mirage, because this is a subject full of contradictions.

Self-regulation by local censorship regimes

Although the laws that regulate the content allowed in the series and films that premiere in territories such as India or Singapore, should not affect the content of video on demand services, both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have chosen to surrender to them voluntarily in many cases, including episodes and movies censored since its release, or agreeing to eliminate them at the request of local governments.

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Initially Netflix seemed willing to reject self-regulation, but as reported by CNN in January this year, the platform has signed a code of good behavior, which will self-regulate its content in India; behaviors that include respect for their national flag and religious sentiments and avoid images that promote terrorism or any act of violence against the State.

In this article of 2017 reference was made to the censored versions that he released in his catalog in India, with examples such as episodes of ‘American Gods’, in which the nudes were pixelated, and another of ‘The Grand Tour’ in which Scenes of a bovine skeleton had been removed. This strategy of voluntary self-censorship of Amazon Prime Video is precisely what the video that we did not see in the episode of ‘The Good Fight’ could have talked about. A movement that also companies like iTunes and Google Play, and that in the case of the company of Jeff Bezos, responds to a concern about legal obstacles that may be found for the area of company that interests you most: electronic commerce.

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The ‘Saudi Arabia’ episode of ‘Patriot Act’ on Netflix explains the censorship situation in Saudi Arabia better than I could try to do. In the video, Hasan Minhaj explains that a previous episode of his program had been removed from the Netflix catalog under pressure from the Saudi government. A magnificent exercise in defense of freedom of expression by Minhaj, which is in itself a paradox, because what is really important in all this is that Netflix surrendered to the pressure of a government and censored its own content.

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And this was not the first time he did it, he had previously removed the series ‘Disjointed’, ‘Cooking on High’ and ‘The Legend of 420’ from his catalog in Singapore because the government classified them as positive representations of drug use. The door is open for it to happen.

Some examples of self-censorship in the global distribution of content

In the era dominated by access to P2P content, the Internet could be understood as an infinite source of censorship-free material. With the arrival of streaming platforms, users were given comfort, which now only requires a subscription to find a wide range of offerings, without the need to use additional applications or to be aware of what is being released outside our borders. ** And the freedom of censorship felt intrinsic **, because the image we have of them is that which HBO previously represented, that of a place where there were no restrictions.

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However, the withdrawal of episodes, and other tactics that we can understand as censorship, are more common practices than we would like. Some users have commented on Reddit that Netflix is replacing supposedly bad words with more harmless ones in the subtitles for people with hearing difficulties in series such as ‘Narcos’ or ‘Queer Eye’, or including beeps in the audio. It was also learned that he had censored the Belgian film ‘Girl’, winner of the Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. And the actress Adriana Torrebajano commented in her Instagram Stories that she had seen her breasts censored on the poster of the movie ‘The shadow of the law’ available on the platform.

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Episode 35 of ‘The Maya Maya Bee’ was deleted from Netflix in the United States after a mother reported on her Facebook account that a phallic image appeared on it. The same platform reissued the film ‘A blind’, at the request of the French government, to remove the real images of a train accident in 2013, and also removed the documentary ‘Root Cause’ from its catalog, after a dentists association denounce that it established a false association between endodontics and cancer.

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Amazon Prime Video withdrew several anti-video documentaries after a report by CNN, although in its online store all books on this subject are still on sale; and HBO has begun to remove all erotic content from its catalog in the United States, just after its acquisition by AT & T, although they claim that the decision had been made previously.

The elimination of content after a scandal

In 2018, FX in the United States, and HBO and Netflix globally, decided to remove all series or monologues of Louis CK from their catalogs after it publicly acknowledged that the rumors that had been hearing about him for years were true. The same has happened with Woody Allen, who has sued Amazon Prime Video after unilaterally rescinded the contract they had signed in 2017, which guaranteed the distribution of four films, including ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ that had already finalized its production.

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And, in the end, the proper names that are the protagonists of these scandals are not the only ones harmed by these washings of the content distributors, but all the equipment that has worked for them and could be receiving income in concepts of rights. That is what has happened with the actors of ‘Roseanne’ who, after the commented racist tweets of Roseanne Barr, saw how the series disappeared from the Hulu catalog and it was announced that there would be no future repositions of episodes on any television channel.

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A more recent scandal, the scams in college admissions Felicity Huffman and Lory Houghlin, has led Netflix indefinitely postpone the premiere of the film ‘Otherhood’, starring Huffman and was scheduled for last April 26; and to announce that Houghlin will not be in the next season of the series ‘Fuller House’. The actress has also been eliminated from the assembly of the series ‘When Calls The Heart’ of the channel Hallmark, like when they replaced to Kevin Spacey by Christopher Plummer in the film ‘All The Money in The World’, but without returning to roll the scenes, simply eliminating it from the frames.

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‘The Simpsons’ have also reacted in the same way by removing from the circulation the episode ‘Stark Raving Dad’ of the third season, in which he had participated with his voice Michael Jackson. This episode will disappear from future editions on DVD, reruns of the series and all platforms. The decision was made after HBO premiered the documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’; James L. Brooks, one of the executive producers of the series, said they had taken this decision together as a way to show compassion and respect for the victims: “I am against the burning of books, but this is ours and we are allowed to take a chapter, “he said in an interview.

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Movistar + did its thing last April by removing the monologue that Iggy Rubin made in a program of ‘La resistencia’. It erased all the traces of the platform, because unlike having issued it a single day, that content would remain in its catalog. And although here come into play many other sensitivities, political implications and campaign time, remove it from its video catalog on demand is a sign of these times in which it is feared because, for what interests us here, the content already it is not ephemeral and acquires permanence.

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As these situations demonstrate, censorship does not occur only in territories with totalitarian regimes or strict moral codes. The self-censorship of these players does not work like that of organizations such as the Standard and Practices of US television, which regulates the content before its broadcast. What we have been seeing in recent years is the tendency to withdraw content in response to social pressure, a strategy of public image with which they prefer to be a negative owner for a day, if someone alludes to the defense of freedom of expression, or the right of the user to decide what he or she is willing to see, to be exposed to it periodically, each time a new user discovers that content and decides to refloat the complaint.

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