Jeremy Corbyn at Edinburgh Television Festival

Tax on tech giants could support public interest journalism, says Corbyn

Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has proposed a possible windfall tax on tech companies, among a range of measures to modernise British media and support public interest journalism.

Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Corbyn revealed Labour’s proposals for UK media reform to restore trust in the media and build a “free and democratic media for the digital age”.

He said that major reform was necessary to prevent a handful of “tech giants and unaccountable billionaires” from controlling “huge swathes of our public space and debate”.

Notably, Corbyn suggested that if content sharing and ad revenue agreements could not be arranged, wealthy tech giants should instead make one-off payments into an independent fund to support public interest journalism.

“One solution to funding public interest media could be by tapping up the digital monopolies that profit from every search, share and like we make,” he said. “Google and news publishers in France and Belgium were able to agree a settlement. 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.”

Conservative opponents have argued that this “internet tax” would instead increase costs for consumers and businesses.

Corbyn spoke in positive terms about the BBC, but argued that it should be liberated from government interference, made more accountable to the public and be more representative of the wider population.

He proposed the creation of an independent body to set the licence fee and to “end government control [of the BBC] through charter renewal” by placing the broadcaster on a permanent statutory footing. The license fee could be subsidised, he suggested, by a “digital licence fee” paid for by tech companies and internet service providers, to lower the cost for lower-income households.

These measures could modernise BBC funding, rendering the process “fairer and more effective”, he commented. The license fee is currently set by ministers, which some argue places the public broadcaster under government pressure.

His other suggestions include publishing the social class of every BBC presenter and journalist; looking into ending ministerial vetoes on Freedom of Information requests; elections to the BBC board; awarding charitable status to some public interest news organisations (such as the Bureau for Investigative Journalism), and expanding a BBC scheme to support local journalism.

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