HONG KONG — An episode of “The Simpsons” referencing “forced labor” in China has been removed from Disney’s streaming service in Hong Kong, where a national security law has raised growing censorship concerns.
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 unclear when it was removed.
The absence of the episode was first reported by The Financial Times.
In one scene from the episode, Marge Simpson’s character is in a virtual bike class during which the instructor shows pictures of the Great Wall of China and says, “Behold the wonders of China: bitcoin mines, labor camps where kids make smart phones.
The Chinese government denies the forced labor allegations, as well as claims that Hong Kong’s freedoms have been eroded under the national security law, which Beijing imposed in 2020 and says was necessary to restore stability after months of protests. against the government.
This is the second episode of “The Simpsons” with an unflattering reference to China to be removed from the streaming service in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised a large degree of autonomy when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The previous episode, which concerns the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and originally aired in 2005, has not been available in Hong Kong since Disney+ launched there in 2021. The service is not available in mainland China.
Disney declined to comment publicly when approached by NBC News. A Hong Kong government spokesperson said on Tuesday that its Film Censorship Ordinance, which was amended in 2021 to allow officials to ban films deemed “contrary” to national security interests, did not apply to streaming services and that he was not commenting on individual businesses. decisions
The spokesperson added that the four crimes established by the national security law – subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – and the associated penalties were clearly defined.
“Law-abiding individuals and organizations will not inadvertently break the law,” the spokesperson said.
Disney has several business interests in China, including a theme park in Hong Kong.
Two films from Disney-owned Marvel Studios will open this month in mainland China, the world’s second-biggest movie market after North America, ending an apparent ban that 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 any potentially offensive images or narration from its streaming products and services in order to play it safe in its future business in China,” he told NBC News in an email.
Carina Cheng contributed.