Disney CEO Bob Iger Defends ABC News Over Accusations of Liberal Bias

Bob Iger - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Bob Iger - H 2015

"I assure you, if we felt George was not presenting it fairly or were bias, he would not be on our air," Iger said of George Stephanopoulos. "It's something we take very, very seriously, and we monitor closely."

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger defended ABC News and one of its anchors, former Democratic party advisor George Stephanopoulos, against charges of liberal bias when pressed to do so Thursday by a shareholder who works for a conservative advocacy group.

"Are we perfect? No. But I believe the overall presentation of ABC News, the reputation of ABC News, is one that we are and will continue to be proud of," Iger told the shareholder.

"We're well aware of the George Stephanopoulos situation. I watch George often. George is a person of integrity ... we believe that George is presenting to his public a fair and unbiased look at news," he said.

Iger said he saw the anchor interview the various presidential candidates and he was satisfied the interviews were fair.

"He seems to be equally aggressive in terms of looking for criticism, looking for applause, demanding facts and opinions from all of them. I assure you, if we felt George was not presenting it fairly or were bias, he would not be on our air," he said. "It's something we take very, very seriously, and we monitor closely."

The shareholder reminded Iger that he asked the CEO to ensure ABC News was free from bias at the annual meeting three years ago, and he wanted to know "one concrete step" Iger took to meet that goal. He said polls still show consumers view broadcast news as liberally biased. Iger, though, rejected the premise.

"People with one very specific set of beliefs or political opinions may view a lot of what is presented across numerous networks as not consistent with their own beliefs, and I guess it would be their conclusion that that would be bias," he said.

The exchange with a representative from the National Center for Public Policy Research came during Disney's annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, the city where Walt Disney was born in 1901. At the top of the meeting, Iger announced his company is donating $250,000 to help restore the house where the founder was born and turn it into a children's center.

Another shareholder identified himself as a "cord-cutter" and wondered when Disney Life might be coming to America. Disney Life is an online streaming service in the U.K. for Disney video. Iger said it is "an inevitability" the service will be expanded to other parts of the world, though he wouldn't give a timetable.

The exec announced that Star Wars The Force Awakens will be available for home entertainment April 1, and he gave all of those in attendance a code for a free download of the film.

"Next month we break ground on our first Star Wars theme lands that will be at Disneyland and Disney World, and we're creating a truly jaw-dropping new world," Iger told an enthusiastic audience.

He also announced two more Disney cruise ships will be added to the current fleet of four, one in 2021 and another in 2023. 

Iger addressed a few hot-button issues, minorities in Hollywood and subscriber losses at ESPN, telling shareholders that ESPN remains the most valuable channel in users' lineups, according to surveys.

"We're also leading the industry when it comes to telling stories from a wide variety of voices and visions, from ABC's groundbreaking diversity both on camera and behind the scenes to the successful shows Disney Channel is creating around the world that reflect local cultures," he said.

Among the clips of upcoming movies Iger showed were Zootopia and The Jungle Book. "That's a great film," he said of the former, while the latter he predicted would "absolutely astound audiences."

Iger also said there may never be Marvel characters at the Disney theme parks in Florida, given Disney doesn't hold rights to Marvel "east of the Mississippi."

Another shareholder said he would like Marvel's Deadpool to remain a Fox film franchise due to its R rating, and Iger assured the man that there are no plans for Disney to make R-rated Marvel movies.

Shareholders elected all 11 of the board nominees, and they voted against two proposals brought by shareholders, one regarding simple majority voting and the other pertaining to lobbying disclosure. 

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com