Freedom of Squeak

Mega corporation Disney cannot control the press

 

By Matthew Gozzip Staff Writer

An image of a smiling Mickey Mouse that becomes increasingly angry.
Graphic by Tara Thomas / Opinions Editor

The Walt Disney Company is widely known as a business that brings cheer and joy in just about every way imaginable. Catchy music, adorable heroes, daring adventures and uplifting themes of love and belonging are the usual traits associated with any Disney property. Unfortunately, it is time to add opposition to free speech to that list.

Daniel Miller, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, wrote an investigative piece for the publication in September. It was about Disneyland’s complicated relationship with the city of Anaheim. In the article, Miller noted that Disney pays only one dollar per year to lease parking structures built by the city, a project that cost Anaheim more than $100 million dollars. Furthermore, the company received subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes in Anaheim. According to public policy experts that study the transactions between Disney and the city, this relief “would be worth more than $1 billion in aggregate.”

Freedom of press is a highly scrutinized topic nowadays, but injustice behind closed doors does not receive enough vetting.

Miller’s investigation weaves through a complex network of political jockeying for Disney’s support. City council members receive campaign support in exchange for Disney obtaining relative immunity to create deals as it pleases with its facilities in Anaheim. For all the global giant gives to the city in tourism and job stability, that is still an incredible amount of leverage that needs to be considered.

The article riled up the executives at Disney, leading to a feud with the Los Angeles Times. Earlier last week in their holiday movie preview section, it was revealed that the publication lost access to early screenings for all Disney films indefinitely. There was no review for “Thor: Ragnarok,” a film from the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, since the critics had to wait for it to be released to the public. It was later confirmed by Disney that this decision was in direct response to Miller’s article and several follow-up reports. Disney did not request any revisions for the articles, instead instilling these sanctions.

Many nationally respected media publications stood in solidarity with the Los Angeles Times by voluntarily not reviewing Disney movies until the ban was lifted. Disney felt the pressure and lifted the ban.

Disney has inadvertently created a discussion about how often large corporations go unchecked when they simply eliminate any threat to their power.

Disney’s initial decision was irresponsible, especially in an era of growing distrust in the media. Corporations are entitled to do as they please legally, but this is an abuse of power comparable to the way Disneyland handles its business with Anaheim—by bullying the weaker party until submission. Reporting on lesser-known public issues is an important aspect of journalism, not grounds for punishment. Perhaps Disney thought the reporting dishonest and the criticism unfair, but since there were no requests to revise the articles, it seems that this was, above all, reactionary.

Not only is it immature (and frankly, petty) to restrict access to a nationally respected publication like the Los Angeles Times, but it’s a baffling public relations move that turns a regional piece into a national news story with possibly global implications. Director Ava DuVernay is in charge of Disney’s adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time,” but showed her support for the media on Twitter. Several movies, like DuVernay’s film and “Black Panther,” are less well-known Disney properties but both had huge price tags. These films need as much critical acclaim as possible in order to bring in audiences. Polarizing the entire film journalism community is counterintuitive.

Freedom of press is a highly scrutinized topic nowadays, but injustice behind closed doors does not receive enough vetting. If anything, Disney has inadvertently created a discussion about how often large corporations go unchecked when they simply eliminate any threat to their power. Whatever comes of the situation, it is encouraging to know that journalism still has the power to make change, even if it has had the displeasure of exposing a company many have grown fond of. Punishing the exercise of freedom of speech doesn’t work when allies band together. Perhaps it’s time for the round ears to listen for once.