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Netflix halts all Russian productions after public outrage

U.S streaming giant Netflix has put an immediate “pause” on its involvement in the Russian TV and film market in the face of growing public pressure to dial down its presence in the country.

A person close to Netflix confirmed to POLITICO on Thursday that the company has “paused all future projects and acquisitions from Russia” while the company continues to assess the “impact” from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In practice, the decision means that the four Russian-language series that had been in either production or post-production will now be discontinued until further notice.

This includes the series “Anna K” and “Nothing Special,” which finished filming in December last year and have since been in post-production. Filming on the series “Zato,” created by Belarusian filmmaker Darya Zhuk, has been put on hold, as has another series called “Untitled.”

The move comes after the company publicly confirmed on Monday that it would not abide by Russia’s so-called Vitrina TV law. The rules, which would have applied to Netflix from March 1, force “audiovisual” firms to carry at least 20 state-supported channels, including the Kremlin-linked Channel One, whose board comprises certain Vladimir Putin insiders — including the president’s top spy chief Sergey Naryshkin and Alexey Gromov, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff.

Ahead of Netflix’s decision to defy the rules, there had been an outburst of public outrage online at the company’s reticence in committing to adopt a coherent stance on Russia amid Russian forces’ continuing advances into Ukraine. On Twitter, the hashtags #netflixstopsupportingrussia and #CancelNetflix had attracted thousands of retweets. Users posted screenshots of their interactions with Netflix’s customer service team, with the U.S streaming firm saying that it wanted to adopt a “nonpartisan” position. 

Netflix has in the past invested in the Russian market as part of local partnerships, for example with the country’s National Media Group (NMG), in a move that had been praised as a “game-changer” that would “set new standards for foreign streaming services in Russia.”  

Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has not yet responded to POLITICO’s request for comment. It remains unclear whether Netflix will face government retaliation for its defiance of the country’s audiovisual rules.  

Netflix’s opposition to Russia’s attempts to use it as a platform for carrying state-supported content has, however, been applauded by some Western politicians.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Tuesday and praised the firm’s decision to refuse to carry the 20 state channels after fears had surfaced that the platform would be used as a springboard for the dissemination of Kremlin-linked disinformation.

“Media regulators, telecoms operators, streaming services, online platforms — everyone needs to play its role in countering the Kremlin’s war propaganda,” Breton said, following the meeting with Hastings.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Tech policy coverage: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools allow you to seamlessly search, track and understand the developments and stakeholders shaping EU Tech policy and driving decisions impacting your industry. Email [email protected] with the code ‘TECH’ for a complimentary trial.

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