Disney removes ‘Simpsons’ episode with Chinese reference to ‘forced labour’ from Hong Kong

    HONG KONG — An episode of “The Simpsons” that references “forced labor” in China has been removed from Disney’s streaming service in Hong Kong, where a national security law has raised concerns about censorship.

    NBC News confirmed that the episode – “One Angry Lisa”, the second episode of the current season – was not available on the Hong Kong version of the Disney+ streaming service, but it was not clear when it was removed.

    The absence of the episode was first reported by The Financial Times.

    In one scene of the episode, the character Marge Simpson is in a virtual cycling class in which the instructor shows footage of the Great Wall of China and says, “Behold the wonders of China: bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where kids make smartphones.”

    The Chinese government denies allegations of forced labour, as well as allegations that Hong Kong’s freedoms have been compromised by the national security law, which Beijing imposed in 2020, which it said was necessary to restore stability after months of anti-government protests.

    This is the second “Simpsons” episode with an unflattering reference to China to be dropped from the streaming service in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. refers to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and originally aired in 2005, is not available in Hong Kong since Disney+ launched there in 2021. The service is not available in mainland China.

    Disney declined to comment publicly when NBC News approached him. A spokesman for the Hong Kong government said on Tuesday that the film censorship regulation, which was amended in 2021 to allow officials to block films deemed “contrary to” national security interests, did not apply to streaming services and that it did not comment on individual case decisions.

    The spokesman added that the four crimes enshrined in the national security law — subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces — and their associated penalties were clearly spelled out.

    “Law-abiding people and organizations will not unwittingly break the law,” said the spokesman.

    Disney has a number of business interests in China, including a theme park in Hong Kong.

    Two films from Disney-owned Marvel Studios are set to be released this month in mainland China, the world’s second-largest movie market after North America, ending an apparent ban that has lasted more than three years.

    Disney’s removal of the “Simpsons” episode may have been an act of self-censorship, said Kenny Ng, a film censorship expert at Hong Kong Baptist University.

    “The company may have proactively removed potentially offensive images or stories from its products and streaming service to play it safe for its future business in China,” he told NBC News in an email.

    Carina Cheng contributed.

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