Cancelling Joe Rogan not 'the answer', Spotify CEO says

Daniel Ek condemns controversial podcaster, but argues against silencing him

In a letter to Spotify employees, chief executive Daniel Ek condemned podcaster Joe Rogan's repeated use of a racial slur. Getty Images
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Joe Rogan has put Spotify in a tough spot, but the streaming company is not ready to part ways with the popular podcast host despite intense criticism over his anti-coronavirus vaccine comments and use of racial slurs.

Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek also said in a message to employees on Sunday that Rogan’s racist language was “incredibly hurtful” and that the host was behind the removal of dozens of episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience.

“While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realise some will want more,” Mr Ek said in the note. “And I want to make one point very clear — I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer.”

I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer
Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO

The letter is the clearest indication yet of where Spotify stands on Rogan’s fate with the company as some musicians, including Neil Young and India.Arie, have pulled their work from the streaming service in protest and others could follow.

Spotify reportedly paid $100 million to exclusively host Rogan’s podcast, which now threatens the bottom line but is also a key part of the company’s strategy to be a one-stop shop for audio.

“We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but cancelling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress,” Mr Ek wrote.

He said he was “deeply sorry” for the impact the controversy was having on Spotify’s employees. Rogan apologised on Saturday for his use of a racial slur on some past episodes.

In his letter, Mr Ek announced an investment of $100m to license, develop and market “music and audio content from historically marginalised groups”, without giving more details.

Rogan’s public troubles started on January 24 when Young asked to have his music removed over concerns Rogan was promoting scepticism about the Covid-19 vaccines. Other artists followed suit, including Joni Mitchell and Roxane Gay.

Spotify said it would soon add a warning to all podcasts that discuss Covid-19, directing listeners to factual, up-to-date information from scientists and public health experts.

The scrutiny intensified when a video compilation emerged last week showing Rogan repeatedly using a racial slur. Arie posted it on her Instagram account, using the hashtag #DeleteSpotify.

“They take this money that’s built from streaming, and they pay this guy $100m, but they pay us like .003 per cent of a penny,” the Grammy winner wrote. “I don’t want to generate money that pays that.”

Rogan apologised in an Instagram on video Saturday, saying that the slurs were the “most regretful and shameful thing” he has ever had to address and that he hasn’t used the word in years.

Mr Ek told The Wall Street Journal last week that he took responsibility for being “too slow to respond” to the criticism over vaccine misinformation. It took the company five days to respond publicly to Young.

“It’s become clear to me that we have an obligation to do more to provide balance and access to widely accepted information from the medical and scientific communities guiding us through this unprecedented time,” Mr Ek continued in a statement.

Spotify reports having 406 million active monthly users, up nearly 20 per cent from last year, and advertising has grown largely because of podcasts.

Musicians still generate the bulk of Spotify’s profits, experts say. The company had 31 per cent of the 524 million music streaming subscriptions worldwide in the second quarter of 2021, more than double that of second-place Apple Music, Midia Research said.

Updated: February 07, 2022, 4:41 PM