Hands off the media

Empower those who create and consume it over control freaks

Jeremy Corbyn, Jonathan McColl, Bill Heaney and a selection of newspapers.

By Lucy Ashton

JEREMY Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has floated a series of radical ideas to build “a free and democratic media for the digital age” in the prestigious Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

The Labour leader argued that “to improve our media, open it up and make it more plural, we need to find ways to empower those who create and consume it over those who want to control or own it”.

Corbyn presented “one of the more radical and interesting ideas I’ve heard”, which could see journalists and media workers electing their editors, workers and consumers on boards, “when a title or programme gets particularly large and influential”.

Pouring scorn on ‘techno-pessimists’, Corbyn declared he wants to be “as ambitious as possible” about taking advantage of new technology for the public good.

He said: “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. This technology doesn’t have a bias towards the few. Government is standing by and letting the few take advantage of the many using technology.”

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Bill Heaney, the editor of The Democrat, a digital news platform in Dumbarton, said: “I welcome Mr Corbyn’s intervention.

“A former journalist himself, Jeremy Corbyn knows about media ownership, bias and spin. And attempts to shut people up.

“Politicians of all parties should listen to what he has to say about this matter. If it leads to a free-er, fairer media which is unshackled and better placed to present the news and give opinion as it sees it, then that will assist the fragile flower that is democracy to flourish at a momentous time of change.

“But if the SNP in Dunbartonshire’s decision to boycott The Democrat and the ban on me by Council leader Jonathan McColl and his SNP cronies from using its media services then Dunbartonshire will become known as the place where media censorship was reborn.

“Our autocratic council, its leader and his control freak colleagues in the SNP should think black burning shame of themselves for this behaviour.

“It is a disgrace and drags them – and the people who elected them and who agree with this decision – into a pit of disrepute never before experienced in this once proud county.”

Corbyn discussed the idea of a British Digital Corporation as a sister organisation to the BBC. He suggested: “A BDC could use all of our best minds, the latest technology and our existing public assets not only deliver information and entertainment to rival Netflix and Amazon, but also to harness data for the public good.”

Jeremy also outlined proposals for debate to expand and empower public interest journalism including:

• Strengthening Freedom of Information by ending ministerial vetoes and including private companies delivering public services;

• Giving charitable status to some local, investigative and public interest journalism;

• Creating an independent fund for public interest journalism paid for by tech giants;

• Expanding an existing BBC-government scheme to fund and develop local journalism.

On the BBC, Corbyn floated a series of ideas, including:

• The election of some of the BBC board members by staff and licence fee payers, and the reduction or removal of the government’s powers of appointment

• Complete transparency about the diversity and make-up of the BBC workforce

• Placing the BBC on a permanent statutory footing to end government control through charter renewal

• The introduction of a digital licence fee, payable by tech giants or through internet service providers, to supplement the current TV licence fee and reduce the cost for poorer households.

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