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LOS ANGELES, USA – Walt Disney Company chief executive Bob Iger fired back at Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday, April 3, saying his apparent retaliation against Disney for taking a position on legislation was “anti-business.”
After initially trying to stay neutral, Disney opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act – referred to by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – that restricts classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Soon after, DeSantis and the Florida legislature moved to eliminate the virtual autonomy the company enjoyed over a 24,000-acre (9,712 hectares) parcel surrounding the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.
Iger, answering a question at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, said Disney may not have handled its position on the bill well, but added that corporations have a right to express opinions. He said it appeared DeSantis “decided to retaliate against us.”
“To seek to punish a company for the exercise of a constitutional right, that just seems really wrong to me,” Iger said.
He also noted that Disney employs 75,000 people in the state and will welcome 50 million visitors to Disney World this year. Iger said Disney plans to deepen its investment in Florida, spending $17 billion over the next decade and creating an additional 13,000 jobs.
“These efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” Iger said.
In February, Florida lawmakers supported a bill that granted DeSantis effective control of a board that oversees development in the special taxation district. The governor signed the bill into law, and named five supervisors to have oversight where Disney had operated with a high degree of autonomy.
Before the takeover by DeSantis’ appointees, Disney pushed through changes to limit the board’s action for decades. On Monday, DeSantis asked Florida’s inspector general to investigate what he described as a last-minute attempt by Disney and the outgoing board to “usurp the authority” of the new board.
“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote in a letter seen by Reuters.
At the Disney shareholder meeting, one attendee said the company has evolved from “a place of magic for children” to an “ideological company serving the LGBTQ” community that promoted a “woke agenda.”
Iger said he was sensitive to that criticism.
“Our primary mission needs to be to entertain…and to have a positive impact on the world,” he said. “I’m very serious about that. It should not be agenda-driven.”
Iger said he was aware that “parents have different levels of comfort” with Disney content, adding “we’re committed to delivering age-appropriate content for family audiences, while also telling stories that reflect the world around us and that foster a greater understanding, greater perspective, greater acceptance of all people.”
Disney shareholders supported the 11 nominees to the company’s board including Iger and chairman Mark Parker, the executive chairman of Nike and its former CEO who replaces the retiring chairperson, Susan Arnold at Disney.
Shareholders rejected a proposal that called for Disney to provide an annual report on its reliance on China for raw materials, finished products, theme park revenue, and labor.
They also turned down a shareholder proposal asking the company to provide more information on charitable contributions. – Rappler.com