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US lawmakers question Apple over Jon Stewart's China content

People arrive on the red carpet before comedian and talk show host Jon Stewart receives the Mark Twain Prize For American Humor at The Kennedy Center

By Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. lawmakers asked Apple Inc to explain the abrupt end of political comedian Jon Stewart's television show on its streaming service, according to a letter made public on Wednesday, citing concerns that content related to China was behind the cancellation.

The New York Times reported last month that Stewart's show on Apple's streaming service was ending, the result of creative differences. The newspaper said Stewart told members of his staff that potential show topics related to China and artificial intelligence were causing concern to Apple executives.

Apple declined comment to the Times.

"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 Republican and Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives' Select Committee on Competition with the Chinese Communist Party said in the letter to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.

The letter asked representatives of Apple for a briefing on its concerns by Dec. 15, 2023. It said the committee also expected to speak with representatives of Stewart.

"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.

Representatives for Stewart and Apple did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

The letter was released ahead of a dinner expected on Wednesday night at which top U.S. business leaders were to dine with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco as he seeks to court American companies and counter his country's recent struggles to entice foreign investment.

The dinner on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum would follow a day of talks between Xi and U.S. President Joe Biden, aimed at stabilizing fraught ties between the world's two largest economies.

The House committee has made China's controls on media a focus of its work.

U.S. 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.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Stephen Nellis and Dawn Chmielewski; Editing by Stephen Coates)