Labour Proposes Tax On Tech Giants To Boost Media Independence

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A ‘digital licence fee’ paid for by the biggest tech firms could help fund investigative, public interest journalism, Jeremy Corbyn argues

Jeremy Corbyn has said a Labour government would consider instituting a windfall tax on large tech firms such as Google, Amazon and Apple to help pay for public interest journalism.

The Labour leader also put forward the idea of a “digital licence fee” paid by large tech companies and internet providers that he said could lower BBC licence fees for poorer households.

Corbyn told the Edinburgh TV Festival that reforms were needed to revamp a “failing” news media, which otherwise would be largely controlled by a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires”.

‘Digital licence fee’

The Conservatives said Corbyn’s ideas amounted to an “internet tax” that would increase consumers’ bills.

Delivering the Alternative MacTaggart lecture on Thursday, Corbyn said ways were needed to better fund investigative, public interest journalism.

He said a “public interest media fund” could be paid for through a content sharing and advertising revenue agreement with Google, along the lines of the Digital Publishing Innovation Fund set up in France in 2013 as the result of a settlement between Google and French publishers.

If that wasn’t possible, a Labour government could explore a one-off tax on the profits of Google and other major tech firms, Corbyn said.

“A digital license fee, supplementing the existing license fee, collected from tech giants and internet service providers, who extract huge wealth from our shared digital space, could allow a democratised and more plural BBC to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook,” Corbyn said.

Business interests

He also suggested other measures, such as giving charitable status to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

Corbyn said journalists are being “held back” by large business interests or, in the case of the BBC, excessive state influence.

“The best journalism takes on the powerful, in the corporate world as well as government and helps create an informed public,” he said.

With regard to the BBC, Corbyn said responsibility for making decisions about the licence fee could be transferred from ministers to an independent body.

He said a publicly owned BBC “sister organisation” called the British Digital Corporation could be set up to provide digital information and entertainment competing with Netflix and Amazon.

IT industry trade body techUK said many of the firms it represents are already working with the Cairncross Review that is examining the future of journalism in the UK.

Large tech companies including Facebook, Google and Amazon have come under fire for paying relatively little tax in Europe.

But in July MEPs rejected a controversial copyright bill that aimed to force tech giants such as Google to pay fees to publishers when linking to material such as news content, following intense lobbying by the tech industry.

The Copyright Directive is set to be considered in a new form in September.

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