Screenshot: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (YouTube)
A recently aired segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that was critical of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reportedly been censored on the Disney-owned streaming platform Hotstar, a wildly popular service the company snapped up during its acquisition of 21st Century Fox last year.
TechCrunch reported that the show typically becomes available early on Tuesday mornings on Hotstar, which syndicates Last Week Tonight in India. The site reported the 19-minute clip was available to stream on HBO’s YouTube account in India but that it still wasn’t available on Hotstar as of late Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Information and Broadcasting Ministry told TechCrunch it was not part of discussions to censor the segment.
Representatives for HBO, Disney, and Hotstar did not immediately return requests for comment.
The segment takes aim at Modi’s controversial policies, including his Hindu nationalism, refusal to address ongoing protests, and a divisive citizenship law that by all appearances is codifying anti-Muslim sentiment into law. Since Sunday, at least thirteen people have been killed and more than 150 injured in clashes over the law. In typical John Oliver fashion, bizarre pop cultural moments are mixed into the segment, including a noteworthy appearance alongside Bear Grylls on Man vs. Wild where the two discuss and sniff elephant shit. As TechCrunch noted, streaming services—including U.S.-based platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video—self-censor the content they stream in India in order to swerve any formal government regulation.
The move comes as President Donald Trump this week made his first official trip to the country. The sentient tube of mayonnaise currently representing the U.S. on the world’s stage was also the target of a number of Oliver jabs, including but not limited to Trump’s bizarre characterization of Modi as the “Father of India,” a title typically reserved for Gandhi.
This week’s controversial censorship comes as Disney is gearing up to launch its Disney+ streaming service at the end of March—also on Hotstar. Earlier this month, Disney head Bob Iger said that the company would rebrand Hotstar’s VIP and Premium subscription tiers to Disney Plus Hotstar, adding that Disney plans to launch two primary products in the country.
“One will be more premium in nature that will include the entire library, so with the original programming and the other one will be more basic that will have the library and not the original programming. (They will be) priced for the market and launched at a very peak period of time,” Iger said, per Variety.
Perhaps Disney+ will users will have better luck accessing expected programming than they evidently currently do through Hotstar. Given that its censorship of some of its content in the U.S. was a mess at launch, however, who the hell knows.