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Time Warner Chief Says Democrats, Not Trump, Were Bigger First Amendment Threat

Donald Trump has railed against the media and threatened to change libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters who print or broadcast critical coverage.

One of the president-elect’s favorite targets has been CNN. However, Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, who leads CNN’s parent company, doesn’t believe that Trump poses a grave threat to free speech.

“I don’t think that’s a thing,” said Bewkes, who said that Trump’s issues with CNN have been magnified by rival news organizations.

Speaking Tuesday morning at Business Insider’s Ignitiion: Future of Digital conference, The Time Warner chief argued that he was more concerned about the Democratic Party’s commitment to campaign finance reform. On the trail, Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee, said that she would push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations and interest groups.

“I think the threat to the First Amendment came more from the Democratic side,” said Bewkes, who argued that the reforms would “restrain multiple voices.” He suggested that the press didn’t cover that threat because they “lean” to left side of the political spectrum. “I think they viewed it charitably as something cleaning up money in politics,” said Bewkes.

He did not mention the fact that Time Warner, which makes money from television advertising, benefits financially from loosening restrictions on political spending.

Bewkes, whose company is awaiting government approval for its $85.4 billion sale to AT&T, also struck back at a New York Post report that HBO, the company’s cable channel, is disappointed by subscriptions for its streaming service, HBO Now. The subscriber base is just above 1 million, which the paper said suggested the service was not as popular as Time Warner has expected the offering would be.

Bewkes quipped that maybe the numbers were disappointing to the Post, but not to Time Warner brass.

“They do have some good stories in there, that one I don’t think was one of them,” said Bewkes.

He also hit back at suggestions that Bill Simmons’ “Any Given Wednesday,” a ratings-challenged interview show with sports figures, was a dud. The show was recently canceled.

“It didn’t flop,” said Bewkes, who said that HBO doesn’t make programming decisions based on ratings.  He added that Simmons is “working on other things which we think will be better and fairly noticeable.”

Bewkes also paid a backhanded compliment to Netflix, the streaming service that is seen as a main rival to more traditional media companies. He said it was “great,” just not as great as HBO.

“I watch it when I can,” he said, adding, “Don’t you watch things in order of preference? First you watch the good stuff.”

Later in the day, Bewkes spoke at UBS’ Global Media and Communications conference. He vowed that HBO’s programming budget — which he described as “a couple of billion dollars” — will continue to grow in the face of heightened competition from Netflix, Amazon and other high-end services.

“We’ve been increasing it and we’ll keep increasing it,” he said. “We’re going to be increasing the original programming, as we have. We think we can do just fine with the economic structure we’ve got.” And he emphasized the buzzy new drama “Westworld” just concluded the most-watched first season of any HBO series, including “Game of Thrones.”

Bewkes also talked up Warner Bros.’ strong year at the box office and said the theatrical side will be the big driver of the studio’s earnings for this year and next. He acknowledged that the first wave of the studio’s DC Comics tentpole strategy — this year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” — were not critical hits. But he said both of those movies also had a big job to do in introducing so many of the characters that will thread through the next 18 planned releases.

“To the extent we fell short a little — and I don’t think we fell short by a giant amount — it taught us where to take the next films,” he said.

 

 

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