Trump Immigration Ban: Hollywood Giants Tread Carefully While Tech Companies Speak Out

In contrast, tech giants, such as Netflix, Facebook, Google and Apple, have voiced their concerns.

While U.S. president Donald Trump's immigration ban is seen having a major effect on Hollywood, and such organizations as the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences and the Writers Guild of America have spoken out about it, entertainment conglomerates and their studios have mostly been treading carefully. 

On Monday, 21st Century Fox published via Twitter an internal memo from executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch and CEO James Murdoch about the policies affecting the travels of people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia for 90 days. (In addition, new refugee admissions are suspended for 120 days, and Syrian refugees are banned from entering the U.S. indefinitely.)

"21st Century Fox is a global company, proudly headquartered in the U.S., founded by — and comprising at all levels of the business — immigrants," the Murdoch brothers' memo said. "We deeply value diversity and believe immigration is an essential part of America’s strength. Moreover, as a company that is driven by creativity and innovation, we recognize the unique perspective offered by our many people who came to the U.S. in search of the opportunity for unfettered self-expression." 

Some observers expressed surprise about the public comment given that Fox owns Fox News, known to be popular with conservatives. But before the U.S. presidential election, reports had also said that Rupert Murdoch and Trump disagreed on such issues as immigration. And according to the Center for Responsive Politics, James Murdoch was among those who contributed to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and pro-Clinton super-PACs.

Highlighting that "this is a time of real uncertainty for many of our colleagues around the world," the Murdochs in their memo also told 21st Century Fox's staff: "We want to assure you that we’re doing what we can to assist impacted colleagues and their families." And they added: "While details of the new policy remain in flux in many instances, we do know it has broad implications.... Our immediate focus is on identifying and reaching out to people who may be affected. We are providing them with a range of support, including legal advice and assistance." 

Beyond Fox, Hollywood giants have been tight-lipped, avoiding public comments about the immigration ban, with one analyst arguing they may want to avoid the political spotlight and open confrontation, particularly so soon after the new administration took over.

Sources at some sector biggies tell THR that the companies have been looking at the possible impact on employees, and setting up assistance where needed, and their business operations. 

Among the entertainment companies that have so far not waded into the political debate are Time Warner, whose planned $85.4 billion sale to AT&T is being reviewed by regulators this year, and its Warner Bros. studio, whose CEO Kevin Tsujihara was a Clinton donor, and Walt Disney, led by chairman and CEO Bob Iger.

Iger is part of one of Trump’s public policy forums that is set to meet this month. While he is a longtime supporter of Democrats, he signaled during a November conference call that he was optimistic that the Republican could be good for business, especially if he lowers corporate taxes.

Consumer watchdog group SumofUs in an online petition has criticized Disney and other U.S. companies for not speaking out about the immigration order. "Thousands of people are taking to the streets to protest," it says. "But corporate CEOs are being dangerously silent. 19 business leaders signed up to officially advise Trump, including executives from Disney, Walmart, PepsiCo and IBM. So far, only two have spoken out against the immigration order." The petition had more than 108,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.

The likes of Viacom and its Paramount Pictures, NBCUniversal and Universal Pictures, Sony and Lionsgate have also not made public comments on the immigration policies. 

But Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said in a staff memo on Tuesday: "Viacom is a diverse, global company of civic-minded employees, and I know many of you share the deep uncertainty at hand over recent changes to U.S. immigration policy. We are assessing the exposure of our employees to the new policy and have found minimal impact, but these changes do raise concerns."

He added: "Diversity, inclusion, freedom of religion, and the flow of ideas across boundaries and borders are core to our beliefs. From MTV International’s 'Freedom' campaign to raise awareness of the refugee crisis in Europe to the company’s support for marriage equality, we’ve always used our platforms to affirm those beliefs and echo our audiences. These are turbulent times, and I know many of you are compelled to raise your voices and take action. At Viacom, we want to take every appropriate step to support you in doing so."

Viacom has reinstated the Viacom Matching Gifts Program, matching donations of up to $1,000 by employees vp-level and below to verified non-profit charitable organizations.  

The careful stance of the Hollywood majors is in marked contrast to such Silicon Valley giants as Netflix, Facebook, Google and Apple. Technology powerhouses often rely on foreign engineers and other technical experts. 

"Trump's actions are hurting Netflix employees around the world and are so un-American it pains us all," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote on Facebook. "Worse, these actions will make America less safe (through hatred and loss of allies) rather than more safe." He concluded: "It is time to link arms together to protect American values of freedom and opportunity."

"I share your concerns" about Trump's immigration order, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a memo to employees. "It is not a policy we support." He added: "We have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company." And he highlighted in an apparent reference to the company's co-founder Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant: "Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do." 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a staff memo that at least 187 company workers could be affected by the immigration ban. "We've always made our views on immigration known publicly and will continue to do so," he said.

In an official statement, Google added: "We're concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S."

And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on the social network: "Like many of you, I’m concerned about the impact of the recent executive orders signed by President Trump." He added: "We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat."

Feb. 1, 10:30 a.m. PT Updated with Viacom staff memo.

 

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