Disney CEO Iger DeSantis calls the retaliation ‘anti-business’

LOS ANGELES, April 3 (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co ( DIS.N ) Chief Executive Bob Iger hit out at Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, saying his apparent retaliation against Disney for taking a stand on legislation was “anti-business.” “

After initially trying to remain 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 strip the 24,000-acre (9,712-ha) parcel surrounding the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando of the virtual autonomy the company enjoyed.

In response to a question at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, Iger said Disney did not properly address its position on the bill, but said companies have a right to express opinions. DeSantis “has decided to retaliate against us,” he said.

“To seek to punish a corporation for exercising a constitutional right, that seems very wrong to me,” Iger said.

He noted that Disney employs 75,000 people in the state and welcomes 50 million visitors to Disney World this year. Iger said Disney plans to deepen its investment in Florida, spending $17 billion and creating 13,000 more jobs over the next decade.

“These attempts to retaliate for a position taken by the company are not only anti-business, but anti-Florida,” Iger said.

In February, Florida lawmakers backed a bill that would have given DeSantis effective control of the board overseeing development in the special taxing district. The governor signed the bill and named five supervisors to oversee the place, where Disney operated with a greater degree of autonomy.

Before the takeover by DeSantis’ appointees, Disney made changes to limit the board’s activities for decades. On Monday, DeSantis told Florida’s inspector general what he described as a last-minute attempt to “usurp power” by Disney and the outgoing group.

“These collective and self-dealing arrangements are intended to nullify recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process and override the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote in a letter seen by Reuters.

At a Disney shareholder meeting, one attendee said the company had promoted a “woke agenda” from a “magical place for children” to an “ideological institution serving the LGBTQ” community.

Iger said he was sensitive to that criticism.

“Our primary mission is to be entertaining … and to have a positive impact on the world,” he said. “I’m very serious about it. It shouldn’t be on the agenda.

Iger said he knows “parents have different levels of comfort” with Disney content, and added, “We are committed to providing age-appropriate content for family audiences, while telling stories that reflect the world around us and foster better understanding, better perspective, and greater acceptance among all people.”

Disney shareholders backed 11 nominees, including Iger and chairman Mark Parker, Nike’s ( NKE.N ) executive chairman and former chief executive officer to replace retiring chairman Susan Arnold at Disney.

Shareholders rejected a proposal to require Disney to provide an annual report on its reliance on China for raw materials, finished products, theme park revenue and labor.

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They also rejected a shareholder proposal asking the company to provide more information on charitable contributions.

Reported by Lisa Rich; Editing by Jonathan Otis and Bill Bergrod

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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