Not many people know that Jeremy Corbyn once worked for a newspaper and chaired the National Union of Journalists’ parliamentary group. His Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on August 23 covered TV and digital as well as radio, print and social media. I think his ideas would help overcome the current malaise in the media and combat the epidemic of fake news, which is basically shorthand for a lack of public trust in the information we receive.
The British trust their TV news, for example, less than the EU average, although the recent rules on political balance have helped somewhat. And the situation is even worse in the print media, with just three companies controlling 71 percent of national newspaper circulation: “The British press is the least trusted press in Europe … This unhealthy sway of a few corporations and billionaires shapes and skews the priorities and worldview of a powerful section of the media.” In the area of digital media there are concerted efforts by a handful of corporations to lock us in to their proprietary offerings, going all the way from our phone’s operating system to the news we read.
“We can build a free, vibrant, democratic, and financially sustainable media in the digital age. We just need to harness the technology, empower the best instincts of media workers, wherever possible put the public in control, and take on the power of unaccountable billionaires who claim they are setting us free but in reality are holding us back from achieving what we can all achieve together.”
So what exactly is Corbyn proposing? There are four main areas:
Provide active support for local, investigative, and public interest journalism.
A major source of funding would be to negotiate with the tech giants to create a fund (as has been done in France and Belgium) or – if they won’t play ball – impose a windfall tax on their profits. And charitable status could be granted to not-for-profit organisations like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The aim is to fund local, community and investigative news co-ops to report on matters of public interest.
Strengthen the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Corbyn said this crucial journalistic tool should be extended to cover private sector providers of public services, who are currently protected by commercial confidentiality although they are responsible for matters of great public interest, as we have seen with Carillion, the East Coast Mainline and Birmingham Prison. Labour will also examine abolishing the ministerial veto on FOI requests.
Free the BBC of government control, democratise it and make it truly independent (as stated in its charter) and representative of the country it serves.
Here Corbyn proposed empowering the workforce, who would elect the executive directors, and licence payers, who would elect the non-executive directors. National and regional boards would be elected by BBC staff and local licence payers, with all boards representative of the country in terms of gender and minorities. And a digital license fee could be levied, collected from the tech giants and internet service providers, which currently derive their income from the activity in our shared digital space, so helping to reduce the licence fee for poorer households.
Set up a publicly owned British Digital Corporation (BDC) as a sister organisation to the BBC.
The BDC would “deliver information and entertainment to rival Netflix and Amazon but also … harness data for the public good.” It could provide secure technology for online decision-making and audience-led commissioning of programs and work with major public utilities to create a new level of public engagement and trust in institutions such as Labour’s proposed National Investment Bank.
These ideas are not yet official Labour policy but will feed into the ongoing debate in this area.
Did you hear or read a fair and thorough account of Corbyn’s speech in the media? Well you can find the full speech here if you’re interested:
Aidan Constable, Labour Germany