Sony top brass have gone on the offensive in light of their vilified decision to cancel the release of The Interview, placing the onus on exhibition partners, hinting at a future release and engaging in a spat with US President Barack Obama.

A tumultuous Friday (December 19) in which the FBI confirmed that North Korea had engaged in cyber attacks on Sony saw the studio hierarchy respond to a sharp rebuke from President Obama, who earlier in the day said the studio “made a mistake” by pulling its December 25 release of the comedy.

COMMENT: Why Sony was wrong to pull The Interview

Sony issued the following statement in response to the President’s remarks: “Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

“The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.

“Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theatres, after the theatre owners declined to show it. Without theatres, we could not release it in the theatres on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

The claim by Sony that its “only decision” was not to release the film on December 25 appears to be at odds with a statement it released on Wednesday that said, “Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film.”

SPE CEO Michael Lynton’s CNN interview

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton appeared on CNN on Friday and claimed the studio had not caved to pressure.

“I think actually the unfortunate part is in this instance, the president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” said Lynton. “We do not own movie theatres. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theatres.

“So, to sort of rehearse [sic] for a moment the sequence of events, we experienced the worst cyber attack in American history and persevered for three-and-a-half weeks under enormous stress and enormous difficulty and all with the effort of keeping our business up and running and get this movie out into the public.

“When it came to the crucial moment when a threat came out from what was called the GOP at the time threatening audiences who would go to the movie theatres, the movie theatres came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time – we were completely surprised by it – and announced that they would not carry the movie.

“At that point in time, we had no alternative but to not proceed with a theatrical release on the 25th of December. And that’s all we did.

“We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

President Obama’s statement

Earlier on Friday President Obama said: “Sony is a corporation; it suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.

“Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

“That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about. Again I’m sympathetic Sony was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish they had have spoken to me first. I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidate by these kind of criminal attacks.’

At time of writing the National Assocation Of Theatre Owners had not responded to Screen for a comment on Sony’s latest declarations.