Is Emirates deliberately censoring scenes in films and TV programmes featuring homosexual couples while allowing similar uncut scenes of hetrosexual couples? That’s the allegation that’s been levelled against the Dubai-based airline by London’s The Standard newspaper in a recent comment piece – and it comes just days after the emirate launched its ‘Year of tolerance’.
Emirates has one of, if not the best, in-flight entertainment system in the world. Passengers can enjoy over 2,500 channels of entertainment, including the latest blockbuster movies, award-winning television box sets, live TV, music and even computer games. Like many airlines, Emirates buys specially licensed content that is occasionally edited so that it can be shown in-flight.
But has Emirates been editing its programming beyond what was originally intended?
The scene that has raised the question features in the hit BBC drama called Killing Eve – a spy-thriller in which the two female leads become obsessed with one another. Eagle-eyed viewers who have watched the boxset on Emirates’ in-flight entertainment noticed that a kiss between Eve (played by Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) was unexpectedly cut from the episode.
Meanwhile, a kissing scene between two men in the Oscar-nominated Ladybird was also ostensibly removed without cause. The Standard notes that similar scenes that feature heterosexual couples, such as the romantic kiss between Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill appear in their unedited entirety.
Emirates, however, denies it had any part in editing out homosexual encounters. A spokesperson was quoted as saying:
“Emirates does not have rights to edit any licensed movie or TV content, as we acquire content produced by the studios and distributors. Emirates acquires mostly theatrical unedited versions of content, but as a family friendly airline serving an international audience, where there is excessive violence, sex, nudity or language, we opt to license the edited versions created by the studios/distributors.”
While the BBC refused to comment on the allegation, a company source told the newspaper that it should boycott Emirates and remove its programming from the airline’s entertainment library.
Censorship is still very much a part of daily life in Dubai where TV programmes and films are routinely edited to remove scenes that may potentially cause controversy in what is still a conservative Muslim country.
Nontheless, both Emirates and Dubai have publicly embraced diversity and inclusion in what has been called the UAE’s ‘Year of Tolerance’. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, explained that tolerance would also be demonstrated in the media:
“The UAE must lead the way for intellectual, cultural and media initiatives that further consolidate the values tolerance and co-existence, opening up to cultures of the region and the world as a whole.”
Critics, though, aren’t entirely convinced. Human Rights Watch has derided a recent ruling by the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court that upheld the conviction of an award-winning human rights activist who was accused of “defaming” the UAE on social media.
“The repeated legal persecution of Ahmed Mansoor simply for advocating basic rights exposes the UAE’s extreme intolerance of any criticism of its rulers and its policies,” explained Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
For its part, Emirates says it does not discriminate against people of any race, religion or sexual orientation. “Diversity is a foundation of our brand,” the airline explains.