GOP Senators Question Netflix’s Planned Chinese-Based Sci-Fi Series

A group of Republican senators has sent a letter to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos questioning why the SVOD behemoth plans to adapt Chinese sci-fi trilogy “A Three-Body Problem” by author Cixin Liu into an original series. “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been tasked with creating the series for Netflix about humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization.

Liu is also author of the short story upon which Chinese sci-fi theatrical hit The Wandering Earth is based. The movie, which has topped Mulan in theatrical revenue, has generated more than $690 million at the Chinese box office. Netflix acquired SVOD rights to the movie for North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

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Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) contend Liu is sympathetic to Chinese government’s forced re-education of ethic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

The Uyghur Muslims have become political pawns for the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress seeking leverage in the government’s ongoing trade disputes between Beijing and Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) took to social media, accusing Disney of “whitewashing genocide” by allegedly cooperating with Chinese police working at the Uyghur camps, including crediting them in the live-action Mulan movie credits. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said it was common practice in Hollywood to acknowledge local governments for a movie filmed abroad.

In the Sept. 23 letter to Sarandos, the senators are seeking answers to the following questions:

  1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?
  2. LWere Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Cixin liu regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.
  3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publicly or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.
  4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?

 

A Netflix representative was not immediately available for comment.

Revised Tech Encryption Bill Sent to U.S. Senate for Vote

A bill seeking to prohibit the exploitation of minors on the Internet July 2 was sent to the floor of the U.S. Senate for a full vote. While there is no argument against removing images of child abuse from the Web, technology and trade organizations contend the “Eliminating Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technology” (Earn It) Act — introduced in March by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — could undermine user encryption safeguards and hold platforms such as Facebook and Google-owned YouTube liable for video images distributed by third parties.

Indeed, the bill would enable U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr to force tech companies to bypass encryption found on cell phones, computers and portable media devices for law enforcement purposes.

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“The Earn It Act could end user privacy as we know it,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement. “Tech companies that provide private, encrypted messaging could have to rewrite their software to allow police special access to their users’ messages.”

Graham later issued a statement stressing the bill would not undermine existing encryption safeguards.

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‘The goal here is not to outlaw encryption … that will be a debate for another day,” Graham said.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said the bill would stifle legal online speech and harm American competitiveness.

“Rather than targeting the actual problem and giving prosecutors the resources to lock up [sex] offenders, the EARN IT Act would promote lawsuits against legitimate Internet companies,” Shapiro said.

He said the bill would allow states to create a “patchwork quilt” of civil and criminal liability without specifying a “knowledge” standard.

“We appreciate the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interest in fighting child exploitation and believe the committee should pursue more effective measures,” Shapiro said. “There is nothing in existing law … that prevents the Department of Justice from bringing charges against abusers right now.”

NATO Applauds $2 Trillion Stimulus Agreement

While passage of the $2 trillion stimulus bill in the U.S. Senate remains caught up in partisan bickering, the National Association of Theatre Owners March 25 said it applauded the bipartisan agreement announced earlier today.

“We applaud the agreement … to provide relief to movie theaters their employees and so many other public-facing industries that have had to close their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the trade group said in a statement. “With this agreement, movie theaters can look forward with confidence to re-opening and once again serving their communities when this crisis has passed.”

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Details in unemployment benefits, which some GOP lawmakers say could incentivize workers to stay unemployed, remain a key obstacle in the bill getting through the Senate. If passed, it would have to be approved by the House and then signed by President Trump.

Regardless, NATO said the stimulus would provide a $454 billion loan guarantee fund providing access to capital and enabling movie theaters and other businesses to pay their fixed costs while they are unable to generate revenue through normal operations.

The bill would expand Small Business Administration programs enabling small businesses — or the majority of theater companies — to deduct several categories of expenses for loan forgiveness.

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It would also afford deferral of payroll taxes, expanded opportunity for loss carrybacks for businesses, and technical corrections regarding qualified improvement property. Employee retention tax credit for businesses that keep people on the payroll despite closures or that see large sales losses. And up to four months of direct aid to workers through extended and expanded unemployment insurance, including increases in the weekly dollar amount and eligibility for part-time employees. It would also advance tax deductions to workers payable now.

“With this aid, movie theaters can get through this crisis confident in being able to re-open, knowing their vital, trained workforce is able to weather this pandemic and have jobs waiting for them when it is safe to reopen,” NATO said in a statement. “We look forward to its quick passage in the House and signature by the President.”

U.S. Senate, White House Reach Historic $2 Trillion Stimulus Agreement

The U.S. Senate and Trump Administration officials have reached an agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus bill that would give families, small and large businesses, and local and state governments funding (in the form of loans) to survive through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We have a deal,” Eric Ueland, legislative affairs director with the White House, said at 1 a.m. ET March 25, as reported by The Washington Post.

Lawmakers in the Senate have to formally vote on the largest government fiscal bailout in history — no small task as two previous cloture motions failed to garner the 60 votes required to bring the bill to a final vote, where a simple majority would pass it.

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In addition to $1,200 checks to many people, and the establishment of a $367 billion loan program for small businesses, the bill has a $500 billion fund earmarked for cities, states and industries, including entertainment companies in Hollywood. Passage of the bill should provide movie exhibitors the fiscal lifeline they have been begging for as theaters remain shuttered during the pandemic.

The measure also includes expanded unemployment benefits and directs $150 billion to U.S. hospitals dealing with the virus that has now infected nearly 55,000 people in the country and killed almost 800, according to the Johns Hopkins University pandemic tracker.

The $500 billion fund had drawn criticism earlier from Democrats over concerns that Treasury Department disbursement of the money wouldn’t be as transparent as they wanted. When asked this week who would oversee the $500 billion, Trump said he would be the “oversight.”

That didn’t sit well with Democrats. The White House reportedly agreed to have an independent inspector general and oversight board analyze all lending decisions.

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“We got better oversight,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said. “The oversight basically is saying that … you can’t just exempt everybody and give all your corporate executives, based on the backs of taxpayers, free carnival.”

Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Fails First Vote in the Senate

A whirlwind weekend effort by Senate lawmakers to push through nearly $2 trillion in fiscal aid to businesses and people adversely affected by shutdowns in response to the coronavirus failed to garner the necessary 60 votes to close debate on the bill to send it to a vote.

The 47-47 vote March 22 on the $1.8 trillion stimulus package, which would create loans to small and large businesses, in addition to $3,000 in cash to families and expanded unemployment benefits, reportedly faced pushback by some Democrats who complained the fiscal package offered too much assistance to corporations compared with direct aid to citizens.

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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell voted against the bill, a procedural maneuver that would allow him to ask for a re-vote at a later time. The bill voted on was described as a “shell” representing the concept of what the the final negotiated bill would off, presented to clear the procedural cloture vote to speed up the process of passing the final version once it is ready.

In addition, five Senate Republicans, including Rand Paul and Mitt Romney, were unable to vote due to self-quarantine. Paul earlier in the day announced he tested positive for the virus, the first senator to do so.

Senate Democrats were reportedly ready to move ahead with the bill until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded changes, indicating House Democrats would compose their own stimulus bill, a duplication of effort that could further complicate efforts to bring fiscal relief to American workers and businesses.

The impasse is a setback to movie theater operators who have pleaded for immediate loan funding to stave off possible bankruptcy. The world’s cineplexes remain shuttered, including all 1,000 AMC Theatres, including 11,000 screens, and Regal Cinemas’ 7,300 screens.

“We don’t have a penny of revenue coming in,” AMC CEO Adam Aron told CNN on March 20.

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Senate Votes to Overturn Net Neutrality Repeal

The U.S. Senate May 16 voted to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of so-called net neutrality provisions enacted under President Obama.

The 52-47 vote spearheaded by senate Democrats and three Republicans would use the Congressional Review Act to essentially veto the FCC’s 3-2 vote last December to deregulate the broadband industry that was set to go into effect in June.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined Democrats in the resolution.

Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, applauded the move. “Net Neutrality aligns with Redbox’s pro-consumer position of providing a multitude of viewing options across physical and digital formats,” he said.

Richard Siklos, VP, corporate communications at Netflix, also expressed his support for the Senate move, telling Media Play News, “We are supporting the effort through the Internet Association.”

Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman issued the following statement on the passage of the CRA to restore net neutrality rules for consumers:

“The Internet industry commends the Senate for its work to reinstate net neutrality rules through the CRA and urges the House of Representatives to work to protect people’s access to a free and open internet. Guaranteed access to the entire internet is not a partisan issue. An overwhelming majority of Americans support net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. It is time for Congress to pass strong, enforceable net neutrality protections—through the CRA or bipartisan legislation—that provide consumers the protections they deserve.”

The resolution must now go to the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a 235-193 seat majority — and are not as pro-net neutrality.

Should it pass the House and gain President Trump’s signature (no small task), Internet Service Providers on cable, satellite and telco would again be subject to regulation as a utility, which was used as a framework to establish rules barring blocking, throttling and paid priority for media content delivered over the Web.

“Net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who spearheaded the agency’s repeal of net neutrality, said it was disappointing that Senate Democrats forced this resolution through by a “narrow margin.”

“But ultimately, I’m confident that their effort to reinstate heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet will fail,” Pai said in a statement.