Monday Nov 29, 2021
An episode of The Simpsons in which the cartoon American family visit Tiananmen Square has been removed from Disney's streaming channel in Hong Kong amid a time when authorities are clamping down on dissent.
The missing episode adds to concerns that mainland style censorship is becoming the norm in the international business hub, ensnaring global streaming giants and other major tech companies.
Disney+ has made rapid advances since it was launched 18 months ago reaching more than 116 million worldwide subscribers.
The Hong Kong version started streaming earlier this month and eagle-eyed customers soon noticed that an episode of 'The Simpsons' featuring China was conspicuously absent.
Episode 12 of season 16, which first aired in 2005, features the family going to China to try and adopt a baby.
During the episode they visit Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the site of a deadly 1989 crackdown against democracy protesters.
In the cartoon there is a sign in the square that reads "On this site, in 1989, nothing happened", a satirical nod to China's campaign to purge memories of what happened.
It is not clear whether Disney+ removed the episode or was ordered to by authorities.
The entertainment giant has not responded to requests for comment, nor has Hong Kong's government.
When AFP checked Disney+'s Hong Kong channel on Monday episodes 11 and 13 of season 16 were available but not 12.
Until recently Hong Kong boasted significant artistic and political freedoms compared to the mainland. But authorities are currently transforming the city in the wake of huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.
Among the slew of measures are new censorship laws introduce this summer that forbid any broadcasts which might breach a broad national security law that China imposed on the city last year.
Censors have since ordered directors to make cuts and refused permission for some films to be shown to the public.
Last week Hong Kong's Beijing appointed leader Carrie Lam vowed to "proactively plug loopholes" in the city's internet and introduce "fake news" regulations.
Her comments have added to concerns China's "Great Firewall" sprawling internet and news censorship regime could be extended to Hong Kong.
Content that satirises China is still available on other streaming platforms in Hong Kong.
Netflix's Hong Kong channel is currently still showing 'Band in China', an episode of the cartoon series 'South Park'.
In that episode, one of the characters ends up in a Chinese labour camp and much of the show lampoons the willingness of American brands to adhere to Chinese censorship rules in order to make money.