After Backlash, Disney Lifts Ban on LA Times’ Movie Access

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Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Walt Disney Company officials Tuesday lifted their ban on Los Angeles Times access to early movie screenings following intense pushback from movie critics around the country, many of whom vowed not to write about Disney movies until the ban was lifted.

“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.

The ban was made public Friday by the Times. Disney was upset by the paper’s coverage of Disney’s subsidy deals with the city of Anaheim. As news of the ban spread over the weekend, several film critics associations as well as the New York Times criticized Disney’s move and announced a ban of their own.

The National Society of Film Critics; the film critics’ associations of Los Angeles, New York, and Boston; the Television Critics’ Association (TCA); and the New York Times announced they would not attend early screenings of Disney films until Disney lifted the Times ban.

“Disney’s actions, which include an indefinite ban on any interaction with the Times, are antithetical to the principles of a free press and set a dangerous precedent in a time of already heightened hostility toward journalists,” the critics’ associations wrote in a joint statement.

“A powerful company punishing a news organization for a story they do not like is meant to have a chilling effect,” the New York Times wrote in a statement. “This is a dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest.”

Disney’s move was in response to a two-part Times series published in late September, which questioned if Disney was “paying its fair share” in Anaheim.

Among the deals it highlighted was the Mickey & Friends parking structure, which the city built for $108 million. Disney pays the city $1 per year to lease the structure, while Disney likely makes tens of millions of dollars each year from the structure by charging at least $20 per day for each car, according to the paper.

Voice of OC was the first to report that during the last two Anaheim elections, in 2014 and 2016, Disney was by far the largest campaign spender in the city, through a complicated web of intermediary groups that make it difficult for voters to see where the money came from.

The Times series highlighted the over $1 million Disney spent in last year’s Anaheim City Council election, including ads attacking candidates who questioned the subsidy deals with Disney.

In response to news of the ban, Disney issued a statement Friday criticizing the Times’ series as biased and unfair.

“We regularly work with news organizations 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 officials wrote in their statement.

“Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda—so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as ‘a hit piece’ with a ‘seemingly predetermined narrative.’ We’ve had a long relationship with the L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.”

Disney didn’t explain what it considers inaccurate in the Times’ coverage. Disneyland’s communications director, Suzi Brown, didn’t return phone messages last week seeking comment.

One of the reporters on the series said Disney’s objections to the Times didn’t challenge the accuracy of their reporting.

“Disney’s complaint was not one of accuracy,” staff writer Daniel Miller told the Washington Post.

“It did not ask for a single correction on this series,” he added. “I think it’s fair to say that Disney strenuously argued for how significant its positive impact on the city of Anaheim has been and we feel that that is reflected in the story.”

The Times’ chief spokeswoman, Hillary Manning, said the paper had nothing further to add beyond its Friday announcement of the ban.

Voice of OC has publishing and advertising agreements with the LA Times and also rents office space from them.

Disney’s subsidy deals in Anaheim have raised questions over the years, and drawn scrutiny of the company’s large spending to elect City Council members, who are the ultimate decision-makers on the subsidy deals.

Disney spent about $1 million last year alone on Anaheim City Council races, with the money routed through 13 different groups, with names like Moving Orange County Forward and Orange County Freedom Fund, before being spent in the election.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.