Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has justified standing behind podcaster Joe Rogan as a slew of aging rockers flee the platform — proudly stating that the service is “not in the business of dictating the discourse” of its creators.
“I know some of you feel disappointed, or angry, or even hurt, by some of this content and the fact that it remains on our platform,” Ek told staffers in an impassioned 15-minute speech at a town hall Wednesday, according to audio obtained by The Verge.
“There are many things that Joe Rogan says that I strongly disagree with and find very offensive,” Ek conceded, calling the fallout “incredibly complicated” and a learning moment.
But 54-year-old UFC commentator Rogan is “the number one podcaster in the world by a wide margin,” Ek stressed, noting he was leading 93 markets.
While Rogan’s exclusive deal with Spotify is “a hard pill for many to swallow,” it has also been key in driving toward the service’s dream of eventually having “50 million creators and a billion users,” Ek said.
“If you 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,” he told his staff, according to a transcript of the speech.
“Not anything goes, but there will be opinions, ideas, and beliefs that we disagree with strongly and even makes us angry or sad,” he warned.
He said it was “really critical that creators are able to use their voice independently” and that Spotify has “diverse voices.”
“We’re not in the business of dictating the discourse that these creators want to have on their shows,” he said.
While the Rogan row surrounds accusations of misinformation over COVID-19, there are numerous other divisive topics that would also spark calls for censorship, he warned.
“If we only wanted to make content that we all like and agree with, we will need to eliminate religion, and politics, and comedy, and health, and environment, and education,” Ek said, saying “the list goes on and on and on.”
“Spotify is for allowing conversation and sparking thought,” he said of the platform that currently has 11 million creators and 3.6 million podcasts.
Ek famously sided with Rogan when 76-year-old rocker Neil Young gave an ultimatum that ended with the “Rockin’ in the Free World” singer pulling his catalog.
Young was soon joined by others, most notably his former bandmates David Crosby, 80, Steven Stills, 77, and Graham Nash, 80, as well as 78-year-old folk singer Joni Mitchell.
Outspoken comedian Jon Stewart also became one of the latest to call the rockers’ revolt a “mistake.”
“Don’t leave. Don’t abandon. Don’t censor. Engage,” he said on his own podcast, “The Problem With Jon Stewart.”
He defended Rogan as a “person you can engage with” and “not an ideologue in any way,” calling the criticism “overblown.”
“This overreaction to Rogan I think is a mistake. I really do.”