Spotify CEO backs Joe Rogan on free speech grounds, warns against ‘canceling voices’
Joe Rogan has been no stranger to controversy lately. In addition to taking extreme heat from the mainstream media over propagating “COVID misinformation,” the Spotify‘s highest paid podcaster has been the source of tension with artists taking their music down from the multi-media platform. The most high-profile artist has been Neil Young, who has publicly urged musicians to join the boycott as well as Spotify employees to “take the good path” and quit the company.
Now India.Arie is removing her music and podcast from the streaming service in protest of Rogan’s use of the “N-word.” The four-time Grammy winner also shared resurfaced footage to her Instagram of Rogan using the racial epithet repeatedly over the years. Rogan has since apologized, calling his comments “regretful and shameful.”
Wth so much controversy surrounding Rogan lately, Spotify’s stock price has taken a dip and the Swedish streaming company’s CEO, Daniel Ek, has sought to ease some of the tensions within his own company. “I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer,” Ek wrote in an open letter to staff. Rather than canceling Rogan’s historic $100 million contract, the Spotify CEO is doubling down on keeping Rogan on the air on the basis of free speech.
Ek made it clear that Joe Rogan’s comments were “incredibly hurtful” and “do not represent the values of this company.” In response, Ek promised to commit an “incremental investment of $100 million” towards the “licensing, development, and marketing of music and audio content from historically marginalized groups.”
Ek and Rogan agreed to remove a number of episodes from Spotify, while acknowledging that “some will want more.” On Friday, February 4, upwards of 70 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience were removed from Spotify, according to the website JRE Missing. To date, a total of 113 podcast episodes have been removed from Spotify.
Censorship issues have surrounded Rogan since joining the platform back in 2020, when Ek had to go on-record stating that Joe Rogan was not getting special treatment. However, Rogan’s critics might beg to differ.
Read the full letter, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, below.
There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you. Not only are some of Joe Rogan’s comments incredibly hurtful – I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company. I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard.
I think it’s important you’re aware that we’ve had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language. Following these discussions and his own reflections, he chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify. He also issued his own apology over the weekend.
While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear – I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress.
Another criticism that I continue to hear from many of you is that it’s not just about The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify; it comes down to our direct relationship with him. In last week’s Town Hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise. So I’ve been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values.
If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We’ve been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more. So I am committing to an incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups. This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas. While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether.
I deeply regret that you are carrying so much of this burden. I also want to be transparent in setting the expectation that in order to achieve our goal of becoming the global audio platform, these kinds of disputes will be inevitable. For me, I come back to centering on our mission of unlocking the potential of human creativity and enabling more than a billion people to enjoy the work of what we think will be more than 50 million creators. That mission makes these clashes worth the effort.
I’ve told you several times over the last week, but I think it’s critical we listen carefully to one another and consider how we can and should do better. I’ve spent this time having lots of conversations with people inside and outside of Spotify – some have been supportive while others have been incredibly hard, but all of them have made me think.
One of the things I am thinking about is what additional steps we can take to further balance creator expression with user safety. I’ve asked our teams to expand the number of outside experts we consult with on these efforts and look forward to sharing more details.
Your passion for this company and our mission has made a difference in the lives of so many listeners and creators around the world. I hope you won’t lose sight of that. It’s that ability to focus and improve Spotify even on some of our toughest days that has helped us build the platform we have. We have a clear opportunity to learn and grow together from this challenge and I am ready to meet it head-on.
I know it is difficult to have these conversations play out so publicly, and I continue to encourage you to reach out to your leaders, your HR partners or me directly if you need support or resources for yourself or your team.
Information seeker. Dog lover. PhD drop out. College professor by day, EDM photographer by night.