Disney CEO Refuses to Comment on China Controversies, Fearing ‘Harm’ to Company

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger attends the European premiere of “The Lion King” in London (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Disney CEO Robert Iger refused on Tuesday to speak about the pro-democracy protests roiling Hong Kong because doing so might imperil his business interests.

“To take a position that could harm our company in some form would be a big mistake,” Iger told the Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live conference, explaining why he wouldn’t comment on the issue.

Iger called it a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. He further commented that while he has spoken about political issues in the past when he thought it was in the company’s best interests, he did not think that doing so at this time would be a good idea.

Disney is set to release a new streaming service, called “Disney+,” within several weeks.

The recent standoff between the NBA and China began when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protesters. Morey swiftly removed the tweet and apologized to Chinese fans, however the Chinese Basketball Association severed all contact with the Rockets in retaliation. The Chinese government blocked TV coverage of two NBA exhibition games being held in China.

ESPN sports channel anchors were instructed to refrain from political commentary on the controversy. ESPN is owned by Disney, which is planning to release an ESPN streaming service as well.

Disney operates a theme park in Shanghai and generates billions of dollars in revenue in the Chinese market.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse slammed Iger in a statement.

“Sell your soul to save your profits’ is going to be a helluva plotline for Frozen 2,” said Sasse. “There are about a million Uyghurs in Chinese communist prisons who aren’t going to be visiting the Magic Kingdom anytime soon.”

On Tuesday night, former Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal defended Morey’s original tweet, which read “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”

“As American people, we do a lot of business in China,” O’Neal said. “And they know and understand our values and we understand their values. And one of our best values in America is free speech. We’re allowed to say what we want to say and we’re allowed to speak up on injustices, and that’s just how it goes.”

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