Members of a special House committee fired off a letter to Apple, questioning whether the decision to end The Problem with Jon Stewart was due to concerns over the company’s relationship with China.
Last month, it was announced that the Apple+ show was ending, and The New York Times reported that Stewart told members of his staff that the company was concerned about some of the show’s topics, including China. Stewart wanted creative control of the series, according to the Times and other reports.
In a letter to CEO Tim Cook, the members of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Competition with the Chinese Communist Party wrote, “If these reports are accurate, it potentially speaks to broader concerns about indirect Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence over the creative expression of American artists and companies on CCP-related topics. It also highlights an additional reason, beyond the traditionally-cited national security rationales, why we encourage Apple to accelerate its efforts to reduce its dependence on the PRC in its core business.”
The letter was signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and its top Democrat, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).
The lawmakers wrote, “If Jon Stewart can potentially be impeded from offering commentary on the CCP, what does this mean for less prominent personalities? While there is a chance that a high-profile individual like Jon Stewart can locate another streaming service where he can express his views on PRC-related matters, an aspiring comedian who wants to use satire to make broader points about human rights and authoritarianism faces even bleaker prospects. Respectfully, we believe that this needs to change and responsible creative professionals should be able to freely write and perform on PRC-related topics.”
The committee also wrote, “To reassure the creative community in light of these reports, we also respectfully request that Apple publicly commit that content that could be perceived as critical of the CCP or the PRC is welcome on Apple TV+ and other Apple services.”
The committee is asking for a briefing by the company by Dec. 15, and they also plan to speak to Stewart’s representatives.
A spokesperson for Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.
The committee has scrutinized China’s influence on American business, including its impact on Hollywood. Gallagher, Krishnamoorthi and other members met with Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger last spring, and held a roundtable with filmmakers and producers on their experiences with the Chinese government and its censorship. The committee also has been planning to have a roundtable to discuss the issues related to entertainment and sports.
In an interview with Deadline, Gallagher said one of the problems the committee sees is “self-censorship on the front end.”
“What choices are they already making, knowing that they don’t want to offend China, when they decide to embark on a project? Ask yourself: When was the last time a movie featured a Chinese villain? I can’t think of one. Maybe that’s evidence that self-censorship is happening.”
In the letter, Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi wrote, “Although we recognize the difficult situation companies may find themselves in, potential decisions to not renew shows, or not produce a film or show in the first place, due to anticipated CCP objections to particular content deny U.S. viewers and global audiences access to important information about the PRC that reflects a broader variety of perspectives.”