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Spotify CEO apologizes to staff for Joe Rogan controversy as episodes get removed

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Joe Rogan announces the fighters during a ceremonial weigh in for UFC 264 on Jul. 9, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Stacy Revere | Getty Images

Spotify’s Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek has apologized to his employees for the way in which the Joe Rogan podcast controversy has impacted them, but said he has no plans to drop the podcaster from the platform.

“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,” he wrote in a note to staff that was provided to CNBC by a Spotify spokesperson.

“Not only are some of Joe Rogan’s comments incredibly hurtful — I want you to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company,” Ek said. “I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard.”

On Friday, a compilation video of Rogan using the N-word was shared on social media platforms.

In an Instagram post Saturday, Rogan described the video as “horrible” and said it was the “most regretful and shameful thing” he’s ever had to talk about publicly.

He said the video is made up of clips “taken out of context” from 12 years of conversations on his podcast.

“It looks f—— horrible, even to me,” Rogan said. “I know that to most people there is no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast. I agree with that now. I haven’t said it in years.”

He admitted that for a long time he would just say the word instead of saying the N-word. “I thought as long as it was in context, people would understand what I was doing,” Rogan said.

Dozens of Rogan’s podcast episodes have been removed from Spotify in the last few days, but Ek said there are no plans to pull Rogan from the platform.

“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,” Ek said.

“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.”

Ek said Spotify will instead invest $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music and audio content from historically marginalized groups.

Covid conspiracies

Rogan, who famously smoked a spliff with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2018, has also been accused by medical professionals of repeatedly spreading conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Spotify has also been under fire for hosting the episodes. In 2019, it bought the exclusive streaming rights to “The Joe Rogan Experience” in a deal reportedly worth more than $100 million.

Last month, 270 medical professionals wrote an open letter to the streaming giant asking it to take action against Rogan’s podcast, accusing the company of broadcasting misinformation.

Musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell recently boycotted Spotify for continuing to host Rogan’s podcast.

In a separate apology last week, Rogan said: “I’m not trying to promote misinformation, I’m not trying to be controversial. I’ve never tried to do anything with this podcast other than to just talk to people.”

Ek told CNBC last Thursday he was pleased with the company’s response to growing controversy around Covid misinformation on the platform.

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