A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants answers from Apple CEO Tim Cook over whether Jon Stewart’s opinions about China played a role in the tech giant’s decision to pull the plug on his podcast.
The leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter to Cook on Wednesday seeking an explanation over the cancellation of “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” which ended its two-season run on the AppleTV+ streaming service.
Cook was among several high-powered business executives who paid tens of thousands of dollars to dine with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday night.
Stewart and Apple mutually decided to part ways last month after executives at the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant reportedly expressed misgivings about the former “Daily Show” host’s commentary on China and artificial intelligence.
When Stewart’s demand for full editorial control was rejected by Apple executives, the decision was made to end production of the show, according to reports.
“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,” the committee said in the letter, which was addressed to Cook.
“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 [People’s Republic of China] in its core business.”
The committee wants Apple to publicly commit to allowing content that is critical of China on its streaming platform.
“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,” said the letter, signed by the panel’s Republican chairperson, Representative Michael Gallagher, and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the panel’s ranking Democrat.
“While companies have the right to determine what content is appropriate for their streaming service, the coercive tactics of a foreign power should not be directly or indirectly influencing these determinations,” the lawmakers added in their letter.
The Post has sought comment from Apple, Stewart and the Chinese government.
Stewart’s show initially failed to generate buzz, but recent episodes did manage to produce several viral moments.
“The Problem With Jon Stewart” also garnered several Emmy Award nominations, including one for outstanding talk series.
Stewart, who became a pop culture sensation while anchoring Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” beginning in the late 1990s, was insistent on keeping creative control over the show while refusing to be “hamstrung” by Apple, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
When executives let it be known that they wanted final say over the show’s content, Stewart chose to walk away “rather than have his hands tied,” THR reported.
But another report from Variety quotes sources as saying that the Apple-Stewart divorce was “amicable.”
Apple is among the few American tech companies that have a business footprint in China — a country that requires firms to abide by strict censorship laws and other regulations.
In 2021, it was reported by The New York Times that Apple agreed to store the personal data of its Chinese customers in a database whose computer servers are controlled by a state-owned company.
The company’s business model is heavily reliant on China since many suppliers in the Asian country are used to make components of bestselling products including the iPhone, iPad, and AirPods.
Half of Apple iPhones are manufactured in a factory in Zhengzhou which has been nicknamed “iPhone City.”
China is also a key market for Apple. In the last quarter alone, Apple generated $15.8 billion in sales from Chinese consumers.
But the Apple-China relationship has been tested in recent weeks by a Chinese government directive barring state workers from using Apple smartphones — a move seen as part of Beijing’s crackdown on foreign enterprise in the country.
US lawmakers have long expressed concerns about potential Chinese government censorship given the ruling Communist Party’s strict media controls.
The concern is particularly acute for Hollywood films, as some studios have altered or self-censored scripts to appease Chinese government minders and gain access to the country’s market.
With Post Wires