House Speaker Newt Gingrich won over a group of entertainment executives March 14 with a pledge to tear down international trade barriers on Hollywood’s behalf.
Following a closed-door 90 minute breakfast attended by representatives of all eight Motion Picture Assn. of America companies, Gingrich criticized the Clinton administration for not standing up for Hollywood’s interests.
“The entertainment industry is one of the major job producers in the U.S. and one of the major earners of foreign exchange,” he said. “They have not been adequately represented by the U.S. government in negotiations.”
The Georgia Republican also offered a veiled threat to European Union countries that insist on continuing program quotas against Hollywood. The U.S. Congress, Gingrich warned, “could easily pass” retaliatory trade legislation.
“We could pick the five most sensitive European exports and cite exactly the same (protectionist) reason and pass a law which cuts off some of their most sensitive high technology, high growth areas,” Gingrich said.
The message was warmly received by Hollywood executives, many of whom in the past have been heavy financial contributors to the Democrats. MPAA president Jack Valenti said Gingrich’s comments drew a “cheerful response. It was exactly what they wanted to hear.”
Other members of Congress who attended the meeting included entertainer-turned-politician Sonny Bono (R-Palm Springs), House Commerce Committee chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), House telecommunications subcommittee chairman Jack Fields (R-Texas) and Reps. Chris Cox (R-Newport Beach), Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), Paul Gillmor (R-Ohio) and Rick White (R- Wash.).
The breakfast – billed as a courtesy call to the new GOP leaders of Congress – was arranged by Valenti at Fields’ request.
Entertainment industry honchos in attendance included 20th Century Fox chairman Peter Chernin; Warner Bros. co-CEOs Bob Daly and Terry Semel; Viacom Entertainment Group chairman and CEO Jonathan Dolgen; MCA chief operating officer Sidney Sheinberg; Disney senior exec VP/chief of corporate operations Sanford Litvack and exec VP of corporate affairs John Cooke; Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Alan Levine and TV Group president Mel Harris; New Line Cinema president Michael Lynne; and from MGM, chairman Frank Mancuso, exec VP of corporate affairs Bill Jones and exec veep Bob Pisano.
Levine said the meeting represented a positive development for Hollywood. The meeting with Gingrich was “really the first opportunity as a group to meet and greet the new speaker.”
Valenti quoted Gingrich as saying core copyright industries in the U.S. represent a “prime economic asset.” Gingrich, according to Valenti, said he is “prepared to use the weight of the House of Representatives to open up markets rather than close them.”
Hollywood was asked to “come back with a blueprint” of three or four issues of critical importance that can be addressed by Congress. Gingrich said he would then appoint a task force of Republicans to address those issues, Valenti said.
Perhaps surprisingly, no discussion of TV violence surfaced at the session, according to participants. ‘ We did not deal with social issues,” Valenti said. “We dealt with economic issues.”