The tiny Island Nation of Singapore, situated between Malaysia and Indonesia, is mostly known stateside for producing excellent semi-conductors, banning chewing gum, and combatting petty crime, such as vandalism, by caning convicted offenders. Like in much of Southeast Asia, cannabis has long been taboo in the city-state, with possession of any amount punishable by up to ten years in prison. And also caning. Because Singapore. Those caught trafficking, defined as possession of about a pound of the herb or more, are subject to the death penalty. Singapore does not mess around with marijuana.
But surely the authorities can’t get mad at a little weed in your TV show, right?
In a worrisome blow to speech freedoms on the internet, Netflix has caved to Singapore government pressure, agreeing to remove cannabis content from their service for subscribers streaming from Singapore. According to Axios, Netflix has said that it will comply with any written government take-down demand. In Saudi Arabia, this has meant the removal of politically critical content by Hasan Minaj. In Singapore, the focus seems to be on cannabis content.
According to a Netflix “Environmental Social Governance” report, this has been limited to content such as Cooking on High, a marijuana cooking show, and Disjointed, a sitcom set in a cannabis dispensary. But given Netflix demonstrated a willingness to comply with such requests, it’s unclear if take-downs will remain confined to cannabis-themed content, or if every film and show that features a character lighting a doobie will soon find its way off of Singapore’s streaming services.
While the move seems to be a blow to the free internet, we’re not too mad at Netflix. The streaming service has demonstrated that there’s a limit to the quantity of government interference that it is willing to tolerate. While Disney sees a huge share of its global revenue coming out of China, Netflix has shunned the censorious regime. If Singapore, with its relatively small market, becomes excessively restrictive, the island state might find itself bereft of both the Netflix and the chill.