Jeremy Corbyn: Tech giants need to pay towards BBC licence fee

The Labour leader calls for a radical rethink of the way the BBC is funded and says tech giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook need to chip in to reduce the cost

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18:  Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on stage at the Pink News Awards 2017 held at One Great George Street on October 18, 2017 in London, England.  (Getty, BA)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a new digital licence fee in which global tech giants contribute to the cost of public service broadcasting and journalism.

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In a radical speech to the Edinburgh Television Festival on Thursday, Corbyn says a rethink of the way the BBC is funded is required and cites a levy on the large tech companies as a solution.

“The licence fee itself is another potential area for modernisation,” he is expected to say. “In the digital age, we should consider whether a digital licence fee could be a fairer and more effective way to fund the BBC.

“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 democratised and more plural BBC to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook. This could also help reduce the cost of the licence fee for poorer households.”

In his Alternative MacTaggart speech Corbyn will argue that “we need bold, radical thinking on the future of our media” because of low levels of public trust and the impact of the digital revolution. Without major changes, he will add, a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate”.

The Labour leader addresses potential claims that these charges would be impossible to implement, citing a 2013 agreement between Google and the French government in which the US giant set up a £52m fund for news publishers.

However, since then, attempts by the European Commission to get large tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay more to UK publishers and broadcasters have largely been unsuccessful.

Corbyn said that if his proposal failed, a windfall tax was also an option.

“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.”

In his speech to delegates, Corbyn also says that the BBC needs to be free of government control and calls for an end to the current system where the government of the day shapes the BBC’s 10-year charter.

“If we want an independent BBC, we should consider setting it free by placing it on a permanent statutory footing, with a new independent body setting the licence fee,” he added.

His speech will also praise the Corporation as “a great institution which rightly commands a special place in our country’s story and national life”.

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His proposed changes to the way the BBC is run will allow it to be “freer from government influence, more accountable to the public and more representative of the country it serves.”