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Texas Board of Education votes to sell off Disney stock

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Texas Board of Education dealt The Disney Company another setback July 10 when it voted to sell off about $46 million in stock in the entertainment giant. The majority in the 8-4 vote cited the sex and graphic violence in movies distributed by Miramax Films, a subsidiary of Disney, for its decision.
While the board’s divestiture of all Disney stock owned by the state’s education trust fund puts barely a dent in the conglomerate, the action serves as a public relations defeat for an increasingly beleaguered company that was the standard for family entertainment for decades. Among the negatives in recent years for Disney have been a boycott by religious and family organizations, including a vote by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1997 calling for such action, and reports in the last month of a financial struggle on Wall Street.
The decision was based on moral and financial considerations, said a member of the board’s majority.
“It doesn’t make sense for the Texas State Board of Education to subsidize a company that is doing things that directly undermine the very things we’re trying to accomplish … ,” board member Richard Neill told Baptist Press. “They are the Jekyll and Hyde of the entertainment industry.” Disney has some of the best and some of “the most perverted movies” in distribution, he said.
“Disney has for years had a very in-your-face attitude with regard to graphic violence and sex, especially in Miramax productions. And secondly, the stock price of Disney has been doing very poorly.”
From “a moral and from a fiscal standpoint, Disney is a very bad choice as far as stock to be in,” said Neill, a Fort Worth dentist.
Among the Miramax movies that have received criticism for their violent and/or sexual content are “Pulp Fiction,” “Priest,” “Trainspotting” and “Chasing Amy.”
Time magazine reported June 15 Disney’s stock had dropped 10 percent in the previous month. Neill said it had dropped 17 percent in the last two months. Some Wall Street analysts have cut their profit forecasts for the company, it was reported in June.
“It’s among the largest divestments by a major fund of an individual company stock,” said Timothy Smith, executive director of the New York-based Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The stock will be “sold as quickly as possible,” said a spokeswoman for the board of education. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans voting for divestiture. Two Democrats abstained.
Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, had said investments should be based on the financial return, according to the Houston Chronicle. On the day of the vote, a spokeswoman told the paper the governor stood by his earlier statement: “The board members are independently elected, and it’s their decision to make.”
Disney representatives did not comment on the action but defended the company.
“The Walt Disney Company produces more family entertainment than any other company in the world,” said Claudia Peters, Disney’s director of corporate communications, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Films from subsidiaries such as Miramax may be more adult-oriented, but they are labeled as such, Peters told the Austin paper.
Texas Board of Education chairman Jack Christie of Houston said he finally decided to support selling the stock after seeing clips from “Pulp Fiction,” a 1994 Miramax movie including scenes of extreme violence, drug use and sadomasochism, according to a Reuters news service report.
The decision was aimed at driving home a “message to Miramax … that the public in general had had enough of explicitness in these movies,” Christie said during board debate, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “How many more school shootings do you want before we have to do something to reverse that trend?”
Some board opponents of the decision criticized the majority for hypocrisy. Stocks held by the $17 billion school fund include holdings in companies involved in alcohol, gambling and adult entertainment, The Dallas Morning News reported.
“I personally believe that a vote to divest is political hypocrisy,” said Alma Allen of Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle. “So if we’re going to be pure and clean and devoid of sin, then let’s totally divest and get out of the investment business altogether and just go with [certificates of deposit].”
Neill countered by telling BP, “You’ve got to take them one at a time. The ultimate hypocrisy” is subsidizing a company that is “promoting some of the worst perversion around,” he said. “We’ve just started looking at this. There may be some [other stocks] we’ve got to start looking at.
“I predict that there will be other state agencies in other states that will drop Disney stock,” said Neill, who led a successful effort in the early 1990s to convince advertisers to withdraw sponsorship of “The Phil Donahue Show” because of offensive content. The effort eventually led to the cancellation of the show.
“It’s very obvious to me” the boycott by the SBC and other organizations “is having a direct impact,” Neill said.
In addition to the SBC, other organizations participating in the boycott are American Family Association, Focus on the Family and the Assemblies of God. AFA initiated the boycott in 1995. The AFA of Texas was instrumental in lobbying the Texas board to sell off its Disney stock.
The SBC and others have cited not only the content of Miramax movies but the following among their reasons in calling for a boycott of Disney:
— extending health benefits to the partners of its homosexual employees;
— cooperation with homosexuals holding “Gay Days” at its theme parks the last eight years, though the company does not sponsor the events; and
— distribution through its subsidiaries of entertainment mocking orthodox Christianity, such as the ABC show “Nothing Sacred,” which was canceled last season;
— the “coming out” of the lead character and the homosexual story line of the ABC show “Ellen,” which was canceled this spring;
— Publication by subsidiaries of books promoting homosexuality, such as “Growing Up Gay.”