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Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, will set out his ideas for “building a free and democratic media for the digital age” during the Edinburgh TV Festival’s Alternative MacTaggart keynote lecture on Thursday.
Among his proposals is a new funding model for U.K. public broadcaster BBC that includes “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,” according to a copy of highlights of his prepared remarks. That new fee “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. This could also help reduce the cost of the [existing BBC] license fee for poorer households.”
Corbyn is expected to argue that “in the digital age, we should consider whether a digital license fee could be a fairer and more effective way to fund the BBC.”
BBC management has repeatedly highlighted the competition from U.S. technology and streaming giants.
“The market around us is becoming more global and competitive,” BBC chairman David Clementi said in the broadcaster’s annual report published last month. “We face a threat to British content from the west coast of America, and we need to respond to the rapidly changing habits and needs of our audiences in the digital age.”
BBC director Tony Hall said in the report that his team remains focused on “building a BBC that is able to meet the challenges posed both by the changing habits of young audiences and the global shift in content production toward a small number of U.S.-based competitors.” Arguing that “homegrown, British content has never been more under threat,” he concluded that today’s media environment is “increasingly global and more and more dominated by a small number of U.S.-based giants with extraordinary creative and financial firepower.”
In his speech, Corbyn is set to express his support for the BBC, which he is expected to call “a great institution, which rightly commands a special place in our country’s story and national life.” But he will add that Britain must look at ways to democratize the broadcaster to reduce government influence and make it more accountable to the public and more representative of the country.
Among the other proposals for the BBC that Corbyn is planning to float on Thursday are the election of a selection of BBC board members by staff and license fee payers, the reduction or removal of the government’s powers of appointment, “complete transparency about the diversity and make-up of the BBC workforce” and placing the BBC on “a permanent statutory footing to end government control through charter renewal,” which is currently needed roughly every 10 years.
The Labour leader is expected to emphasize 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 is scheduled to argue, a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate.”
Corbyn previously worked at the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser and chaired the National Union of Journalists’ parliamentary group.
Unlike U.S. President Donald Trump’s recurring criticism that major media organizations deal in “fake news,” the Labour boss is expected to tell the Edinburgh TV Festival that a “free press is essential to our democracy,” but journalists and other media workers need to be “set free to do their best work, not held back by media bosses, billionaires or the state.”
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