Disney blacklisted L.A. Times after report on how the company influences Anaheim politics

For the Los Angeles Times, this hasn’t been exactly the happiest place on earth. A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse outside Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif.

Mega company blocks newspaper from reviewing movie; report on Disney’s relationship with Anaheim to blame; ban reversed under pressure

In a worrisome trend, Disney barred film critics at the Los Angeles Times from an advanced press screening of the Marvel movie Thor: Rangarok last week, setting off a huge firestorm. After film critics from other publications (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) announced they wouldn’t attend or review Disney features – and film critics associations would disqualify Disney films from their year-end awards – and a reprimand from the Television Critics Association, Disney on Tuesday relented on the ban.

“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. But Disney did not apologize to the Los Angeles Times for their treatment of the newspaper.

The Los Angeles Times is owned by Chicago-based tronc, owners of the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune however, nor other tronc-owned properties (Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel) participated in the protest against Disney.

The decision to bar the L.A. Times came when the paper in September published an investigation on how Disney influenced politics in Anaheim, Calif., a city 26 miles southeast of Downtown Los Angeles and is home to Disneyland Park, opened in 1955 and built by Walt Disney himself and opened another park in Anaheim in 2001, California Adventure. The story featured on how Disney was able to infiltrate politics in the city, funneling money through Political Action Committees (PACs) to support candidates who naturally supported them and receiving huge tax breaks to continue investing in the city.

Disney did not appreciate the coverage, calling the report “a complete disregard for journalistic standards” and said it was 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.’

In the second-ranked Los Angeles market, Disney is the parent of ABC-owned KABC-TV and sports radio talk KSPN-AM, ESPN’s radio affiliate. The company at one time also owned independent KCAL-TV, but was forced to sell after Disney bought ABC in 1996 as at the time, stations were not allowed to own two TV stations in the same market. Disney also owned the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks and baseball’s California/Anaheim Angels, now known as The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both were sold around twelve years ago.

The decision to reverse the ban comes as Disney is rumored to buy most of the properties of 21st Century Fox, giving them a bigger slice of the entertainment market.

This is not the first time Disney has been accused of an “abuse of power”. As yours truly wrote earlier, Disney bosses reportedly forced ABC to renew struggling action hour Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. despite low ratings as previous Friday occupant Last Man Standing drew more than double the adult 18-49 rating than S.H.I.E.L.D did last season. In the past, the financial interest and syndication rules prohibited studios from owning broadcast networks, preventing these types of abuses. When the rules became invalid in the mid-1990s, scenarios like this are now becoming more common.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Disney backed off the ban is because of the bad publicity it created – not to mention the growing chorus of critics joining the Los Angeles Times in solidarity, saying they wouldn’t attend press screenings for any Disney movies – with a new Star Wars movie coming up. Can Disney really afford that?

As the useless, paid-off-by-lobbyists FCC ramps up the process of further deregulating the industry – thanks in part to the Trump administration, look for more of this. Disney’s actions – trying to retaliate against the Los Angeles Times for something they are supposed to do – to be the eyes and ears of the people in Southern California – is alarming and concerning. With the fifth estate under attack every day thanks to the dictator-in-chief, our democracy is at stake. And with media consolidation all but a certainty, it is never been more important these days to have a free, independent press.