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Jeremy Corbyn: Tech firms like Amazon and Google should pay for BBC

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jeremy corbyn
Britain’s
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

REUTERS/Darren Staples

  • Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition party
    Labour, wants to tax firms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and
    Netflix to help pay for the BBC.
  • He said the companies should pay their way in the UK
    for extracting “huge wealth from our shared digital
    space.”
  • Tech firms are unlikely to welcome the tax on their UK
    operations, and it’s unclear whether even the BBC would be open
    to the idea.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition party Labour,
has floated the radical idea of effectively taxing America’s tech
giants to help pay for the BBC.

Theresa May’s most powerful adversary will raise the proposal in
a speech on Thursday at the Edinburgh International Television
Festival, where he will say that firms like Amazon, Google,
Facebook, and Netflix should pay their way in the UK for
extracting “huge wealth from our shared digital space.”

The BBC is currently funded to the tune of £3.8 billion ($4.9
billion) by the licence fee, paid by TV-owning British
households. Corbyn’s plan is to supplement this with what he will
call a “digital licence fee.”

“In the digital age, we should consider whether a digital licence
fee could be a fairer and more effective way to fund the BBC,” he
will tell an audience of the UK’s most senior TV and media
executives.

“A digital licence fee, supplementing the existing licence fee,
collected from tech giants and Internet Service Providers, who
extract huge wealth from our shared digital space, could allow a
democratized and more plural BBC to compete far more effectively
with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix,
Amazon, Google and Facebook.”


tony hall
BBC director general Tony
Hall.

WPA Pool/Getty
Images


Making the idea a reality could be fraught with difficulty. Tech
firms and ISPs are unlikely to welcome what would effectively be
a tax on their operations in the UK.

Indeed Tech UK, a trade body that represents tech firms in the UK
and counts the likes of Apple and Google among its members,
immediately trashed the idea. “It is good to see Mr. Corbyn
engaging on these issues, however we need better ideas than just
another proposal to tax tech companies,” it said in a statement.

It’s unclear whether the BBC would even welcome such a move,
which could be seen as a threat to its independence. And then
there’s the fact that Corbyn’s party is not in power, and that
the BBC’s funding arrangements and operating agreement, or
charter, is set in stone until 2027.

What is clear, however, is that the BBC regularly complains of
being under threat from firms like Apple and Netflix. In a speech in February, BBC
Director General Tony Hall said the “Fang” companies — Facebook,
Amazon, Netflix and Google — are doing a smash and grab job on
the UK television industry and will “skilfully mine every ounce
of personal data to drive growth and profit.”

Corbyn will say that “we need bold, radical thinking on the
future of our media” because trust is waning and control is being
concentrated in the hands of a “few tech giants and unaccountable
billionaires.”

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