Apple told makers of TV Plus shows to avoid depicting China critically, report says

As original shows for Apple TV Plus were in development, executives reportedly told some creators to refrain from unflattering portrayals of the country.

CNET News staff
2 min read
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong rest at the entrance to an Apple store during clashes in July.

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong rest at the entrance to an Apple store during clashes in July.

Miguel Candela/Getty Images

Apple told creators of some of the original shows for its Apple TV Plus service to avoid portraying China negatively, says a report. The news comes as Apple faces criticism for removing an app used by Hong Kong protesters from its App Store. It also comes amid anger at perceived efforts by US businesses to maintain access to one of the globe's biggest markets by playing along with China's Communist government.

Early last year, Apple's head of international content development, Morgan Wandell, and its SVP of internet software and services, Eddy Cue, gave the China-related guidance to some show developers, BuzzFeed News reported late Friday, citing unnamed sources. BuzzFeed said the move was part of Apple's continuing efforts to remain on the Chinese government's good side, after iTunes Movies and the iBooks Store were shuttered in China six months after their 2016 debut there.

Apple declined to comment on the BuzzFeed report.

Earlier this week, Apple removed an app called HKmap.live from the App Store, a day after People's Daily, the lead newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, criticized the company for aiding Hong Kong "rioters" and "letting poisonous software have its way." The mapping app pulls info from news streams, Facebook and Telegram to show the location of police, tear gas and protesters in Hong Kong.

Following public outcry, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to his employees defending the decision. Cook said Apple received information from users in Hong Kong and from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app was being used to target individual officers and "victimize individuals and property where no police are present."

The app's developers said there's no evidence to support those claims, and others, including noted Apple blogger John Gruber, expressed skepticism that the app was being used as Cook described.

China is Apple's third largest market for sales, and the company assembles most of its products there.

Other US businesses are feeling the heat in regard to China. This week gaming company Blizzard caused an uproar when it canceled a pro gamer's prize winnings and banned him from competitions after he expressed support for the Hong Kong protests. Among other critics, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden tweeted that "No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck." Blizzard says its decision had nothing to do with China.

And the NBA is also tangled up in a controversy with China. Earlier this month, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the protests in Hong Kong. Chinese officials criticized the tweet and some sponsors reportedly cut ties with the team and with the NBA as a whole. Morey deleted the tweet and apologized for his comments, and the NBA has been trying to smooth things over.

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