Disney ends ban on Los Angeles Times amid fierce backlash

Disney's change of course came after a number of news outlets, including The New York Times and The A.V. Club, said they were boycotting advance screenings of Disney films in solidarity.
Disney's change of course came after a number of news outlets, including The New York Times and The A.V. Club, said they were boycotting advance screenings of Disney films in solidarity. PHOTO: REUTERS

(NYTimes) - Amid a growing backlash, the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday (Nov 7) reversed its decision to bar the Los Angeles Times from press screenings of its movies following an investigation by the newspaper into the media giant's business dealings in Anaheim.

"We've had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at the Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we've agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics," Disney said in a statement.

Disney's change of course came after a number of news outlets, including The New York Times and The A.V. Club, said they were boycotting advance screenings of Disney films in solidarity.

The company also faced pressure from several high-profile Hollywood figures, including Ava DuVernay, who directed A Wrinkle In Time, which is to be released by Disney on March 9.

"Saluting the film journalists standing up for one another," DuVernay wrote on Twitter on Monday. "Standing with you."

Critics' organisations also came out against Disney.

On Tuesday, members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics denounced Disney's blackout of the Los Angeles Times.

Each group voted to disqualify Disney's movies from year-end award consideration unless the blackout was "publicly rescinded". The Los Angeles Times had made Disney's blackout public in a note to readers last week that explained why no feature articles about Disney movies appeared in its 2017 holiday movie preview section. Disney also did not give the Los Angeles Times early access to Thor: Ragnarok so that it could prepare a review in time for the movie's opening last Friday.

Disney has a history of taking punitive action against news organisations and analysts when they publish articles or analysis that it deems unfair. Company representatives consistently tell journalists that the media's access to its films and executives is "a privilege and not a right".

In explaining this particular blackout, Disney cited a Los Angeles Times investigation that was published in September about the company's business ties to Anaheim, California, where its popular Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks are.

The two-part investigative series detailed the "subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes" that Disney had secured from the city, as well as the company's effect on local elections.

"We regularly work with news organisations around the world that we don't always agree with, but in this instance the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards," Disney said in a statement last week.

The Los Angeles Times responded at the time by saying that Disney had not asked for any corrections. Since then, it has not covered the outcry from critics and news organisations that followed the blackout.

Disney's decision to block Los Angeles Times journalists from advance screenings inadvertently drew national attention to the articles on the company's dealings with Anaheim. It also stirred outrage and scrutiny.

"As long as Disney is blocking the critics from the Los Angeles Times from press screenings, I can't in good conscience attend similar showings or write reviews in advance," Alyssa Rosenberg, who covers culture for The Washington Post, wrote on Monday.

The New York Times also joined the boycott on Tuesday, before Disney lifted the ban. "A powerful company punishing a news organisation for a story they do not like is meant to have a chilling effect," The Times said. "This is a dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest."