Sony’s Right Decision, then Wrong Decision, then OK Decision
1/7/2015 3:13 PM
By Dan Sweeney, Director
Institute for Enterprise Ethics
The Sony Corporation has been heavily criticized for their original decision to cancel the release of their film The Interview
in the face of 9/11 type threats from North Korea. Much of this criticism was on the premise that in so doing, Sony was bowing to a terrorist foreign power and subjugating US citizens’ right to free speech.
My opinion is that Sony was right to cancel the theater release for one very important, but little mentioned reason: If Sony had not canceled the release they would have put the lives of thousands of United States citizens at risk. Inviting customers into a transaction that, for all the company knew, could cost them their lives just to stand up to a freakish bully and defend their freedom of speech regarding a totally silly message and medium would for sure be an irresponsible act and possibly an immoral decision. Well done, Sony.
Unfortunately, Sony quickly semi-reneged on their original decision and released the film for showing at a couple of hundred independent “art” theaters. Critics of the original decision should take no solace in the fact that there were no terrorist attacks on any of the theaters that showed the film. When the theater operators and Sony took the decision to cancel the showings they had no intelligence that an attack, especially one in the form of a single rogue executioner was not possible. After all, it had happened before and that was without the threat from an unpredictable terrorist nation. But, I guess, no harm, no foul.
However, I am quite sure that if Sony had released the film as originally planned and as their critics would have preferred and even one theater was attacked causing the deaths of even just several people, the corporation would have been on the receiving end of unlimited vilification and defamation and; I believe, rightly so.
The important question for us to examine is what decision we would have taken ourselves if we had been in Mr. Lynton’s (CEO of Sony Entertainment) shoes and those of the theater owners faced with the alternatives of jeopardizing the public’s right to freedom of speech for a little brief time, or putting thousands of people’s lives at risk. No, I believe Sony originally did the right thing by walking away from the possibility of millions of dollars of revenue and profit and exposing themselves to the likely scorn of a few freedom of speech advocates in order to protect the safety of their customers. They should have left the decision right there.