UK opposition Labour proposes tax on tech giants in media shake-up

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - A Labour government would aim to shake up Britain’s media by levying a tax on big tech firms like Google and Facebook to help fund public interest journalism, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Thursday.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's Labour Party, visits the Alexander Dennis Bus Factory in Falkirk, Scotland, Britain August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The tax would also help fund the introduction of a digital BBC license fee to supplement the current fee and reduce the cost for poorer households.

Without major changes to Britain’s media sector a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate,” Corbyn told the Edinburgh TV Festival.

He appealed for bold thinking to address what he called a public crisis of trust in media in the era of “fake news”.

“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 democratized and more plural BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook,” he said.

At the moment, the BBC is funded by an annual fee, currently 150.50 pounds ($192) which everyone watching or recording live TV programs has to pay. Last year it brought in around 3.7 billion pounds.

Corbyn said better funding for the media would help to support public investigative journalism without the pressure of big business interests.

His proposals come after France and Germany have pushed for U.S. technology giants to pay more tax in the European Union.

But in July, EU lawmakers opted not to take a tough line on an EU copyright overhaul aimed at making tech giants share revenues with publishers, broadcasters and artists after a corporate lobbying drive.

Corbyn has steered Britain’s main opposition party to the left and he has had a difficult relationship with its mainstream print media, much of which leans toward the political right.

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison