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Spotify CEO Condemns Joe Rogan’s Use of the N-Word but Still Refuses to Deplatform

”I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer,“ Daniel Ek said in a memo to staff

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek apologized to staff on Sunday for the continued controversy over Joe Rogan, condemning the podcast host’s use of the N-word in past episodes but reaffirming his commitment to keep “The Joe Rogan Experience” on the streaming service.

“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,” Ek said in a memo sent to Spotify staff, the accuracy of which was confirmed to TheWrap by a Spotify spokesperson. “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.”

Ek said Spotify has had conversations with Rogan and his team “about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language.” He then supported Rogan’s decision to remove a number of episodes from Spotify, before Ek doubled down on his decision to keep “The Joe Rogan Experience” on the service.

“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,” the memo continues. “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.”

These comments echo ones Ek made in a town hall with employees last week, where he stated his intention to keep Rogan on Spotify. “If we want even a shot at achieving our bold ambitions, it will mean having content on Spotify that many of us may not be proud to be associated with,” Ek said last week. “Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly and even makes us angry or sad.”

Rogan came under fire last week after a video compilation of him using the N-word 24 times surfaced online, prompting the podcast host to issue an apology on Saturday. “I know to most people there is no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, nevermind publicly on a podcast. And I agree with that now,” Rogan said in a video posted to Instagram. “I haven’t said it in years. But for a long time, when I would bring that word up – like if it would come up in conversation, instead of saying ‘the N-word’ I would just say the word. I thought as long as it was in context, people would understand what I was doing.”

“My sincere and humble apologies,” Rogan concluded in his social media mea culpa. “I wish there was more I could say, but all of this is coming from the bottom of my heart. It makes me sick watching that video. But hopefully at least some of you will accept this and understand where I’m coming from.”

Rogan’s spread of COVID-19 misinformation on “The Joe Rogan Experience” — both through himself and through guests invited onto the program — has led to many artists pulling their music from Spotify, including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and India Arie. Spotify responded to the initial backlash by announcing they would add a “content advisory” label on potential misinformation going forward.

Read Ek’s full memo to the Spotify staff below.

Spotify Team, 

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.

Daniel 

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