Corbyn’s ‘British digital corporation’ call

Written by Julian Blake, Editor at DigitalAgenda

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a new publicly owned British digital corporation to challenge the increasing dominance of tech platforms like Netflix and Amazon, as part of radical plans to reform the BBC.

Delivering last week’s Alternative MacTaggart lecture at the annual Edinburgh International TV Festival, Corbyn said a ‘British digital corporation’, alongside the BBC, would combine expertise, the latest tech and  public assets to deliver entertainment and information “to rival Netflix and Amazon”.

The new corporation would also harness data for public good, the Labour leader added.

Corbyn said: “A BDC could develop new technology for online decision making and audience-led commissioning of programmes and even a public social media platform with real privacy and public control over the data that is making Facebook and others so rich.”

“The public realm doesn’t have to sit back and watch as a few mega tech corporations hoover up digital rights, assets and ultimately our money,” he added.

Corbyn said the corporation could also be an access point for knowledge, information and content held today by the BBC archives, British Museum and British Library.

“Imagine an expanded iPlayer giving universal access to licence fee payers for a product that could rival Netflix and Amazon. It would probably sell pretty well overseas as well,” Corbyn said.

The idea was first mooted by James Harding, the former director of BBC home news, at the Hugh Cudlipp lecture in March.

A digital corporation would be funded by a new ‘digital licence fee’, subsidised by tech giants and internet service providers. Corbyn criticised tech companies for “extracting huge wealth from our shared digital space”, calling them “digital monopolies that profit from every search, share and like we make”.

He rejected the argument that the move would give tech companies undue influence over the BBC.

In his lecture, Corbyn also proposed that the BBC licence fee should be subsidised by a new tax on big technology firms, as part of a wider package of corporation reform that would include elected board representatives, and a declaration of the social class of all presenters and journalists.

He said that organisations pursuing investigative journalism could have charitable status, funded by a new subsidy from tech companies – as Google had agreed in France and Belgium.

“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,” he said.

Twitter reaction to Corbyn’s proposals was mixed, with opponents attacking the digital licence fee idea as an “internet tax”.

“Corbyn wants to create a nationalised Facebook. Jesus,” tweeted Buzzfeed politics reporter Mark Di Stefano. “Who is advising these people?!!?” tweeted Founders Factory founder Brent Hoberman.

Others were more supportive. “He’s opening up debate about how we support the declining art of investigative journalism and local journalism, and suggesting a way we might go to combat the overwhelming predominance of billionaires in our media,” tweeted Peter Collins.

“Needs to be done though. Centralised systems always move towards monopoly. If democracy is to continue post social media we need to be able to maintain citizens rights on the platform,’ tweeted T.S. Knight.

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