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Aug 23, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn: I'll tax tech firms to subsidise the BBC licence fee | Politics I The Guardian

Jim Waterson

Jeremy Corbyn is to propose a tax on big technology firms such as Facebook, Google and Netflix, to subsidise the BBC licence fee as part of a sweeping range of measures to reform the British media industry.
The Labour leader will warn that a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate” and that intervention is now required.
Corbyn has long been a critic of the of British media but until now has remained vague on how he would change the industry. However, in a speech at the Edinburgh TV festival on Thursday, he is expected to:
  • Propose a “digital licence fee” to help fund the BBC, paid for by a tax on big tech businesses and broadband providers.
  • Suggest that licence fee-payers should elect representatives to the BBC’s governing board, potentially handing power to critics of its news output.
  • Advocate introducing charitable status for not-for-profit journalistic outfits, giving tax breaks to organisations.
  • Recommend an independent fund to subsidise public service journalism, paid for by the tech companies.
  • Require the BBC to publish equality data, including for social class, for all creators of its content, whether in-house or external.
Corbyn is expected to strongly criticise large tech companies that “extract huge wealth from our shared digital space”, describing them as “digital monopolies that profit from every search, share and like we make”.
He will suggest that a new tax on such businesses could be used to provide a guaranteed income for the BBC and enable the national broadcaster “to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook”.
The levy on tech companies would be introduced as part of a new legal arrangement with the BBC that would establish the broadcaster as a permanent organisation, meaning it would no longer be reliant on regular negotiations with the government.
An independent body would then be established to set an appropriate level for the licence fee, with discounts on the flat rate of £150.50 a year for poorer families.
It is unclear how much money the big tech companies would be expected to give to the BBC or exactly which businesses would be forced to pay the levy. One proposal would see companies involved in the online media industry being judged by their market share.
Other radical proposals include allowing the British public and BBC staff to elect members of the BBC’s governing board, the organisation that is responsible for setting strategy and ensuring the corporation fulfils its mission and public purpose. Similar arrangements could then be made for control of regional parts of the BBC.
Licence fee-payers would then choose individuals to represent their interests on the board, providing potential candidates met certain qualifying criteria. Online voting could be possible using the BBC accounts used to log in to services such as iPlayer.
Corbyn will also raise the prospect of charitable status for organisations that pursue not-for-profit investigative journalism, in addition to a new fund which would subsidise news outlets using money from the tech companies.
“Google and news publishers in France and Belgium were able to agree a settlement,” Corbyn is expected to say. “If we can’t do something similar here but on a more ambitious scale, we’ll need to look at the option of a windfall tax on the digital monopolies to create a public interest media fund.”
Other funds could be redirected to local, community and investigative news co-ops that pledged to hold local institutions to account.
Corbyn’s team have been influenced on this point by complaints from Grenfell Tower survivors that an absence of local journalists due to newspaper cutbacks could have contributed to unsafe conditions at the west London tower block. Some residents suggested there was no press to campaign and speak on behalf of the community when concerns were first raised about the safety of new cladding.
The BBC declined to comment on Corbyn’s suggestions, saying it did not talk about political parties’ proposals for its future outside of licence fee and royal charter negotiations.
Facebook and Google also declined to comment on the proposals, though tech lobby groups pointed out that some firms, especially Google, had invested hundreds of millions in new journalistic projects.
Labour has already proposed extending Freedom of Information requests to cover outsourcing companies that take government contracts. Corbyn is now proposing to remove the veto that government ministers have on requests, which was used to block the publication of documents relating to the Iraq war.
Corbyn was one of the first MPs to get a personal website, has regularly backed alternative media, and has been a long-term user of social media from his days as a backbench MP.
He has had a testy relationship with the British media since becoming Labour’s leader, despite often citing his brief spell in the 1960s as a reporter on the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser. This month he took the highly unusual step of complaining to the press regulator IPSO about the coverage of his 2014 visit to Tunisia by six national newspapers.
• This article was amended on 23 August 2018. Jeremy Corbyn worked on the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser in the 1960s, not 1950s as an earlier version said.

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