Corbyn Warns Tech ‘Giants’ That He’ll Seek to Curb Their Powers

(Bloomberg) -- Jeremy Corbyn warned “tech giants and unaccountable billionaires” that he will seek to curb their control of information -- but denied he was retaliating for negative coverage during his three years as leader of the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party.

Corbyn -- who has been accused of anti-Semitism, siding with terrorists and drifting on Brexit during a summer under siege -- said Britain’s print media is “wedded so firmly” to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party and “corporate interests” that reform is essential to redress the balance.

The “tightening oligopoly” of news online must be addressed for the same reason, he said.

“This isn’t about any retribution or retaliation to anybody,” Corbyn said in a speech in Edinburgh on Thursday. “I want us to have a strong and vibrant democracy and I support journalists who want us to have a strong and vibrant democracy.”

He proposed a windfall tax on technology companies to fund “public interest journalism,” a digital license fee and elections to the BBC board as part of a plan to “reduce government political influence” on the taxpayer funded broadcaster.

‘Unaccountable Billionaires’

There needs to be “bold, radical thinking on the future of our media” to restore trust and limit the impact of the digital revolution, he said. Without action “a few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate.”

Corbyn’s supporters have accused the mainstream media, including the BBC, of bias against him and claim rich newspaper owners like Rupert Murdoch are seeking to deter the public from his redistributive socialist policies.

“Media bosses, billionaires” and “the state” have too much power to stifle political discussion and are stopping reporters from performing their “essential” role in British democracy, Corbyn said.

‘Fake News’

“For all the worry about new forms of fake news we’ve ignored the fact that most of our citizens think our newspapers churn out what they believe to be fake news day in, day out,” he said. “It’s not much of a surprise then that in the last four years one political earthquake after another has been missed by most of our media.”

Corbyn laced his lecture with the language of class war in a speech designed to appeal to his core supporters, who fill social media with allegations of mainstream media bias against their leader. “The billionaire class” and “elite control” are stopping “the powerful and the wealthy” being held to account, he said.

His goal is to “take on the power of unaccountable billionaires who claim they are setting us free but in reality are holding us back,” he said. “To improve our media, open it up and make it more plural we need to find ways to empower those who create it and those who consume it over those who want to control and own it.”

The Labour leader was visibly angry when he was asked the same question on Brexit four times by Channel 4 News on Tuesday evening and has filed an official complaint over newspaper reports this month about his involvement in a wreath laying at a cemetery in Tunisia in 2014. Corbyn denies he was honoring terrorists and says the visit was part of a mission to bring peace to the Middle East.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter may be forced to pay to support independent media outlets if Labour wins power, Corbyn said

“One solution to funding public interest media could be by tapping up the digital monopolies that profit from every search, share and like we make,” he said. “Google and news publishers in France and Belgium were able to agree a settlement. 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.”

He said a charge on digital platforms could also supplement the license fee paid by all television owners which funds the BBC.

“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,” he said.

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