Jeremy Corbyn: Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix should pay for the BBC

  • 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 ($US4.9 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 hallWPA Pool/Getty ImagesBBC director general Tony Hall.

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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