WGA Pledges to Picket David Zaslav’s Boston University Commencement Speech

The Writers Guild of America will picket Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav at Boston University’s commencement ceremony at Nickerson Field on May 21 beginning at noon ET.

Zaslav is set to deliver the school’s 150th commencement address and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony. Representatives for Warner Bros. Discovery and Boston University confirmed to TheWrap that the speech will continue as planned.

Other honorary degree recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, renowned vaccine researcher Drew Weissman; philanthropist and professional clarinetist Edward Avedisian, who died in December 2022; his wife, philanthropist and musician Pamela Avedisian; and longtime BU trustee Stephen R. Karp, founder and chair of New England Development.

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The Writers Guild of America is on strike for the first time since November 2007 after the group was unable to reach a deal in contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The strike involves a long list of concerns that the writers want Hollywood studios to address, from the low pay involved in writing streaming series to reining in “mini-rooms” used to skirt contractual pay practices to addressing the use of artificial intelligence.

According to BU Today, the initial announcement of Zaslav’s selection received “tepid applause” from students. Additionally, the official announcement post on Instagram has been flooded with comments from disappointed alumni.

“As a BU COM Alum and a member of the WGA, your choice to include Zaslav is beyond insulting,” one alumni wrote. “The ‘record growth’ that you’re honoring him for was built upon the backs and laptops of the WGA.”

Zaslav is one of eight CEOs who was singled out in a recent WGA infographic slamming Hollywood executives’ compensation packages for 2021. According to a recent regulatory filing with the SEC, Zaslav took in $39.3 million in total compensation for 2022, down from $246.6 million in 2021 but up from $37.7 million in 2020 – which was narrowly approved by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on Monday.

“Zaslav is the last person BU should ask its graduating seniors to look up to. Zaslav and other Hollywood CEOs are currently refusing to negotiate with striking writers in good faith. Before the strike, Zaslav laid off thousands of media and entertainment workers while personally earning $246 million in 2021 alone,” DSA-LA Hollywood Labor said in a statement on its Action Network page. “His former employees at HBO Max have also accused him of selectively laying off people of color and canceling shows that feature diverse content.”

“Zaslav’s employees are currently on strike fighting for fair wages and better working conditions,” the statement continues. “Selecting Zaslav to give this historic address during the ongoing writers’ strike is a slap in the face both to the writers currently on strike and to BU graduates who plan to go into the media arts and entertainment industry after graduation. By honoring Zaslav with an invitation to speak now, at this critical juncture for the entertainment industry, BU is directly suppressing the future income of its graduates. This is a wholly inappropriate choice, and we will not stand for it!”

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In an interview with CNBC last week, Zaslav pushed back against the idea that Hollywood studios see the strike as an opportunity to cut costs.

“We’re a pure storytelling company, and we’ve been fighting to get the greatest creatives to come work at Warner Bros.,” he said. “In order to create great storytelling, we need great writers, and we need the whole industry to work together and everybody deserves to be paid fairly.”

He added that the “number one focus” is to reach a resolution “in a way that that the writers feel that they’re valued — which they are — and they’re compensated fairly.”

For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.

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