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Corbyn calls for journalists to be 'set free' from 'billionaire' press barons as he proposes 'public interest media fund' and editorial elections

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today floated a number of ideas, some “radical” by his own admission, about how to “set free” journalists from “billionaire” press barons and democratise news in the digital age.

In a speech that contained a few slip-ups –notably that local papers should root out “competition” instead of “corruption” – Corbyn spoke comprehensively for the first time about his position on the media and possible policies under a Labour government led by him.

Among the more radical ideas proposed by the Opposition Leader was that of giving journalists the right to elect editors, as at the Guardian newspaper, once a title or programme “gets particularly large or influential”.

Scroll down for full speech as delivered

He also touted the creation of a publicly-owned “British Digital Corporation”, as a sister to the BBC, that could develop a “public social media platform with real privacy and public control over data”.

Corbyn said the “best journalism takes on the powerful… and helps create an informed public” but noted that, while valued, there was a lack of proper funding to cover the costs of carrying it out.

He proposed granting charitable status for some local, investigative and public interest journalism and the creation of a “public interest media fund” that could be paid for by tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, either through Government negotiation or an enforced “windfall tax”.

The Conservatives have said Corbyn’s proposals represent “nothing more than a wholescale plan for more state control over our media”.

A former reporter and chairman of the National Union of Journalists parliamentary group, Corbyn began his Alternative McTarggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival by telling the audience that the media is “actually close to my heart”.

“I think about them every single moment of the day and sadly they think about me every single moment of the day,” he said, making light of intensive press coverage since he was made Labour leader three years ago that has recently prompted him to complain to press regulator IPSO.

For Corbyn, the media needs to be seen as “part of one whole connected system” in the digital age that is “delivered mainly through screens of various sizes”.

But for Britain’s most prominent serving socialist politician, the problem is that “far too few people have a grip on most of the power”. He said Britain had to accept some “home truths” about its media.

“For all the brilliant work done across its multiple outlets and platforms, the British media isn’t ready for the challenges of the 21st century and so cannot properly serve the interests of a truly democratic society,” he said.

“While we produce some fantastic drama, entertainment, documentaries and films, when it comes to news and current affairs, which is so absolutely vital and essential for a democratic society, I believe our media in many cases is failing.”

The Islington North MP quoted statistics from research by the European Broadcasting Union that shows “the British people simply don’t trust the media”.

Declaring the British press to be the “least trusted in Europe”, Corbyn turned on British newspaper owners and editors, saying they have “dragged down standards so far that their hard working journalists are simply not trusted by the public – and that is a travesty”.

He added: “A free press is essential to our democracy, but much of our press isn’t very free at all… I want to see journalists and media workers set free to do their best work, not held back by billionaire owners or the by the state.”

Corbyn’s assault on the media continued as he said that for “all the worry about new forms of fake news” the “fact that most of our citizens think our newspapers churn out fake news everyday” has been ignored.

“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,” he added.

“This is partly explained by how close so much of the media is to the very richest and most powerful and I’m not just talking about the revolving door that saw George Osborne walk out of the Treasury to become editor of the Evening Standard.”

Reconfirming Labour’s commitment to part two of the Leveson Inquiry – although it has been scrapped by the Government – Corbyn reiterated that the “stranglehold of elite power and billionaire domination over large parts of our media” must be broken.

“Just three companies control 71 per cent of national newspaper circulation and five companies control 81 per cent of local newspaper circulation,” he said.

“This unhealthy sway of a few corporations and billionaires shapes and skews the priorities and worldview of powerful sections of the media.

“And it doesn’t stop with the newspapers, on and offline. Print too often sets the broadcast agenda, even though it is wedded so firmly to the Tories politically and to corporate interests more generally.

“Just because it’s on the front page of The Sun or the Mail doesn’t automatically make it news.”

Corbyn was clear that his “big ideas” for how to build a “free and democratic media in the digital age” were not yet Labour policy but still in the process of development, saying he hoped they would “encourage public debate” and further research.

“These ideas have at their heart the desire to create a media where journalists and media workers are set free from elite control, whether the billionaire class or government, that’s holding them back from producing their very best work,” he said.

Corbyn praised investigative journalism co-operative The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, regional daily the Manchester Evening News and local weekly the Hackney Gazette for their separate investigations into homelessness as he laid out a proposal for supporting public interest journalism.

“This type of journalism needs support and the Government has a role in helping develop a business model to strengthen and underpin it,” he 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.”

Corbyn said a “strong” government could negotiate with tech giants, such as Facebook and Google, to create a fund to support public interest journalism, or alternatively impose a “windfall tax on the digital monopolies” to pay for the fund.

He said that, faced with declining revenues, investigative journalists were already “looking to alternative models of ownership to carry on their work”.

Scottish investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret was named as one such outlet, covering issues from human rights to the environment and “providing a public service to communities” in Scotland.

Corbyn also proposed turning some news outlets into charities, saying: “That status would help pioneering not-for-profit organisations… to fund their vital work through tax exemptions, grants and donations. Such a change would help support groundbreaking investigations.”

He also proposed a widening of the funding from the BBC’s Local News Partnership, which pays for the pool of Local Democracy Reporters plugging the so-called “democratic deficit” caused by cuts and closures in the regional press, to local, community and investigative co-operatives.

Tacked on to that would be a mandate for them to use “significant time and resources” reporting on public bodies, local government, outsourced contractors and regulated bodies.

“With the decline of local papers, this vital oversight is being lost,” said Corbyn.

“To root out competition, improve services and empower citizens, we need a dogged local media with the time and the money to work on stories.”

According to a copy of the Labour leader’s speech, seen by Press Gazette and checked against delivery, he meant to say “corruption” instead of “competition”.

And Corbyn said the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to cover private sector companies that provide public services, with ministers’ power of veto to prevent the release of information requested under the act to be brought to an end.

Taking aim at the BBC, Corbyn said it “must not be broken up or privatised” but “should be freed of government control, democratised and made representative of the country it serves to help it do that”.

“The BBC is meant to be independent,” he said, “but its charter grants governments the power to appoint the chair and four directors of the board and set the level of the licence fee.”

He proposed allowing licence-fee payers and BBC staff to elect BBC Board members, with boards to carry minimum representation for women and minority groups.

He also called on the corporation to “lead the way” on transparency by revealing the make-up of its workforce, including social class, by publishing equality data for all BBC content creators.

Corbyn suggested creating a new independent body to set the licence fee and said a new “digital licence fee” could be set up to fund the BBC, collected from “tech giants and internet service providers which extract huge wealth from our shared digital space”.

He said this could help a “democratised and more plural BBC” to compete with the likes of entertainment giants Netflix and Amazon and help reduce the cost of the TV licence fee on poorer households.

“With secure funding and empowered staff and audience, the BBC would be on a firm footing to move forward into the 21st Century – educating, informing and entertaining, which is what it was set up to do, and be a vehicle to drive up standards for the rest of the media,” he said.

One area sure to receive universal support from the press was Corbyn’s claim that “quality journalism requires decent pay” and his admission that it is “actually a very skilled job”.

He shared statistics claiming a quarter of journalists now earn less than £20,000 per year.

“Many journalists work for the love of their profession but they deserve a decent income and a secure contract too,” he said. “Insecure employment, which many journalists increasingly face, is a curse on our society.”

Corbyn added: “As well as being paid a decent wage, media workers should be, as far as possible, freed from political and special interest pressures from above.

“We know that the BBC could be, and is I believe, tacitly influenced by Government through the charter renewal process and the setting of the licence fee.”

Returning to the idea of “empowering” journalists and their audiences, while reducing the power of private sector media bosses, Corbyn said one of the “more radical and interesting ideas” he had heard was “to give journalists the power to elect editors and have seats on boards for workers and consumers when a title or programme gets particularly large and influential”.

He referred to a balloting process at the Guardian through which staff can elect their new editor, adding: “There’s no reason why that precedent shouldn’t be spread more widely”.

He expanded: “If, for example, an outlet gets a certain audience share, then its journalists could be given the right to elect their editors, making them accountable to their staff – and their journalistic ethics – as well as to corporate bosses and shareholders.

“You could take this further at a higher audience share, with enforced shareholder dilution with equity and seats on the board awarded to workers and the readers, viewers or listeners.

“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 it and own it.”

Corbyn said one of the “more ambitious ideas” he had heard was the idea of setting up a publicly-owned British Digital Corporation. He said the idea had been first floated by former BBC News director James Harding in his Hugh Cudlipp lecture earlier this year.

He said the BDC could help 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 at the present time”.

“We need big, bold, radical thinking on the future of our media,” Corbyn concluded.

“Without it, at best, we won’t take advantage of the opportunities in front of us as a country and for the kind of journalism that makes the world a better place.

“At worst, a few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and therefore our discourse.”

Corbyn’s speech was largely welcomed by the NUJ, with general secretary Michelle Stanistreet saying: “We hope this speech is just the start of a more detailed discussion about how to bring change to the media that benefits journalists, journalism and society as a whole.”

But Brandon Lewis MP, Conservative Party Chairman, said: “Dressed up as press freedom, this was nothing more than a wholescale plan for more state control over our media.

“From forcing BBC journalists to state their social class, to a nationalised Facebook, these measures are an attempt to hamstring our free press and legitimate scrutiny of Jeremy Corbyn.

“Only the Conservatives will defend our free press, a vital function of a healthy democracy.”

Read Jeremy Corbyn’s full Alternative McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on 22 August 2018 (checked against delivery) below, or watch it online.

Thank you for inviting me to share some thoughts on the current state of our country’s media and its possible future.

Not many people know this about me, but the media is actually close to my heart. I think about them every single moment of the day and sadly they think about me every single moment of the day.

News reporting is a vital and actually a proud profession.

One of my early jobs after leaving school and doing VSO was on the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser – I realise it’s not one of the great national titles, but nevertheless we were very proud of it – and later on in Parliament I chaired the National Union of Journalists’ parliamentary group.

Working on the local paper was hard work but huge fun. And I found it incredibly rewarding because I could see the role that we were playing in the community in developing a sense of community togetherness and reporting on the important, the zany, the funny and the difficult stories that all local papers do have to cover.

But too often, we take journalism and journalists for granted.

At their best, journalists challenge unaccountable power and expose things that the rich and powerful would rather keep hidden from the rest of us. Far too often around the world, journalists pay for that with their freedom or even their lives. Fearless journalists and those who support them in their work are some of the heroes of our time.

Think of the number of journalists that have been assassinated over the past year, five years, ten years, trying to report in difficult places around the world where rich, powerful, dangerous interests have ensured they have been eliminated because they tried to tell the truth. I think we should respect that and respect the lives they have laid down in order that others might know the truth.

In this lecture, I want to look not only at TV and digital, but also at radio, print and social media. As we charge into the digital age, we need to see our media, delivered mainly through screens of various sizes, as part of one whole connected system.

The challenge of the moment and the challenge of the movement I am proud to lead, whose aim is to transform society on behalf of the overwhelming majority, is to ensure technological, cultural and economic changes empower people, rather than oppress them.

The mission of socialism in the 21st century is to lead profound change so that it benefits the many, not the few. That was the title we deliberately chose for our manifesto in last year’s election.

And while audiences of this very much-acclaimed lecture – and its non-alternative sibling – don’t normally hear a socialist perspective, this is certainly not the first time.

The inaugural MacTaggart lecture was delivered in 1976 by the radical Scottish playwright and theatre director John McGrath. His theatre company, whose aim was to take popular, political, working class plays to venues outside the mainstream, was called 7:84.

An odd name for a radical theatre company, you might think. Two numbers: 7. 84. They represent a shocking statistic that McGrath had read in The Economist: 7 per cent of the population owned 84 per cent of the country’s wealth. McGrath’s influence was massive here in Scotland, but also with a wider audience much further afield. And I certainly learnt a great deal from the 7:84 company and what they did to ensure that culture, theatre and film was a good way of disseminating alternative ideas.

Today we face the same issue and in your fast changing industry in particular, far too few people have a grip on most of the power – and it seems like our current system is making that situation actually worse.

So my message today is: for all the brilliant work done across its multiple outlets and platforms, the British media isn’t ready for the challenges of the 21st century and so cannot properly serve the interests of a truly democratic society.

We need to accept some home truths about our media.

While we produce some fantastic drama, entertainment, documentaries and films, when it comes to news and current affairs, which is so absolutely vital and essential for a democratic society, I believe our media in many cases is failing.

Now, this isn’t just the view of someone who has had, shall we say, an interesting relationship with the media, particularly over the last three years.

The latest statistics from the European Broadcasting Union show that the British people simply don’t trust the media.

Trust in British TV news is below the EU average and it is more distrusted than its German, Swedish or Belgian counterparts.

At least our TV news operates under some basic rules ensuring an element of balance. We felt this keenly during the general election campaign last year.

When additional election rules on political balance kicked in, broadcasters were required to report the Labour Party in our own voice almost in many cases for the first time in two years so we could properly lay out our policies for the country.

It turned out, to the surprise of much of the media, that our ideas are pretty much the common sense mainstream and it was the establishment gatekeepers who were shown to be out of touch.

Preconceptions of editorial staff could still be spotted in less regulated vox pops which were more slanted against us. A vox pop looks unfiltered, but what makes it onto TV or radio is chosen by editors on the day.

Jon Snow famously told viewers after the election that the media “know nothing” and expanded on the idea in a lecture to this festival last year. Well, the point is that editors do know something, of course, but that something may be somewhat removed from what most other people really think.

Having said all that, broadcast media is clearly in a better state than the printed word, [with] newspaper circulation heavily down for almost every title while proprietors struggle to make far larger online readerships pay. It is a difficult area for all newspapers.

The print barons are failing in more ways than that.

The British press is the least trusted in Europe, including non-EU countries like North Macedonia and Serbia. Just let that sink in for a moment, that there is this degree of scepticism and mistrust of so many newspaper titles. The owners and editors of most of our country’s newspapers have dragged down standards so far that their hard working journalists are simply not trusted by the public and that is a travesty.

A free press is essential to our democracy, but much of our press isn’t very free at all. And, as I’ll lay out in a bit more detail, I want to see journalists and media workers set free to do their best work, not held back by billionaire owners or the by the state.

We must have this debate now. We must get to the bottom of why our news media is failing and work out what we can do about it.

For all the worry about new forms of fake news – and we’ve heard plenty of that – we’ve ignored the fact that most of our citizens think our newspapers churn out fake news everyday, day in, day out.

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.

This is partly explained by how close so much of the media is to the very richest and most powerful and I’m not just talking about the revolving door that saw George Osborne walk out of the Treasury to become editor of the Evening Standard.

Leveson One and campaigning from people like our Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and party deputy leader, Tom Watson helped expose the cosy relationship between senior press and broadcasting executives, media owners and indeed senior politicians.

Let me be clear, Labour is committed to Leveson Two and there is no better person to be leading for us on this than Tom [Watson].

But we must also break the stranglehold of elite power and billionaire domination over large parts of our media. Just three companies control 71 per cent of national newspaper circulation and five companies control 81 per cent of local newspaper circulation.

This unhealthy sway of a few corporations and billionaires shapes and skews the priorities and worldview of powerful sections of the media.

And it doesn’t stop with the newspapers, on and offline. Print too often sets the broadcast agenda, even though it is wedded so firmly to the Tories politically and to corporate interests more generally. Just because it’s on the front page of The Sun or the Mail doesn’t automatically make it news.

A parallel process of concentration and tightening oligopoly is advancing in online news and could intensify with moves towards phone apps and push notifications. Multinational companies want to create worlds you’re locked into: your phone operating system, your music streaming app, your online viewing service and your news.

These dynamics further undermine diversity and pluralism and I have real doubts that such a model will value the high quality journalistic work that challenges and dictates the powerful and wealthy.

All of you in the media industry, from BBC executives down to a niche online start-up, are worrying about what business model you should adopt in the 21st Century. But political and social activists need to get involved too, because what model is allowed to flourish will have a very profound impact on the public with all the good, or harm, that the media can do.

So today, I want to make some suggestions for how we can build a free and democratic media in the digital age. I will put forward four big ideas which I hope will generate debate. This lecture is designed to encourage public debate – and judging by this morning’s headlines it’s already working.

These ideas have at their heart the desire to create a media where journalists and media workers are set free from elite control, whether the billionaire class or government, that’s holding them back from producing their very best work.

These suggestions are not yet Labour policy, as they’re still in the process of development but I hope they show how we are thinking about major change and open up space for more research and discussion. And we look forward to that research, that discussion and that debate.

Support for public interest journalism

The first idea is about active support for local, investigative and public interest journalism.

The best journalism takes on the powerful, in the corporate world as well as government, and helps create an informed public. That work costs money. We value it but somehow that doesn’t translate into proper funding and legal support.

So, we should look, I believe, at granting charitable status for some local, investigative and public interest journalism. That status would help pioneering not-for-profit organisations, like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, to fund their vital work through tax exemptions, grants and donations. Such a change would help support groundbreaking investigations, like the Bureau’s into how many homeless people are dying on our streets.

I’d like to pay tribute to the Manchester Evening News journalists, who have also been trying to find out how many people are dying on Manchester’s streets with their powerful investigation ‘The Deaths They Don’t Count’. And, I’d also like to single out the Hackney Gazette, which over five weeks, using Freedom of Information requests, undercover reporting and witness testimony, powerfully exposed the hidden homeless problem in one of London’s poorest boroughs, resulting in new commitments from the local authority.

This type of journalism needs support and the Government has a role in helping develop a business model to strengthen and underpin it.

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.

A strong, self-confident government could negotiate with these tech giants to create a fund, run entirely independently, to support public interest media. 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 to create a public interest media fund.

Already, faced with declining revenues, investigative journalists are looking to alternative models of ownership to carry on their work. Here in Scotland, The Ferret uses a cooperative model, with a board comprised of readers and reporters. They cover issues such as human rights, environment and housing, providing a public service to communities in Scotland. They’re setting a standard in public interest journalism here in Scotland, just as the foundation of the West Highland Free Press all those years ago has done for local press in the west of Scotland.

This important part of the media, and its fantastic workforce, could also be supported by reform and expansion of an existing BBC scheme, which sees ring-fenced funding for “local democracy reporters” employed in local papers.

Part of these funds could be made available to local, community and investigative news co-ops, with a mandate to use significant time and resources reporting on public institutions, public service providers, local government, outsourced contractors and regulated bodies.

With the decline of local papers, this vital oversight is being lost. To root out competition [meant to say corruption], improve services and empower citizens, we need a dogged local media with the time and the money to work on stories.

I’m proud that one of the greatest tools that journalists can use to hold power to account, The Freedom of Information Act, was introduced by a Labour Government.

I remember talking to ministers at the time it was going through Parliament, especially my good friend Mark Fisher, and later working with my friend John McDonnell and others against proposals to charge journalists for submitting FOI requests.

Although the FOI Act was limited, we know its power. The Conservatives have shown disdain for the FOI, with former Prime Minister David Cameron bemoaning that FOI requests “fur up” government. Accountability is the lifeblood of democracy.

We have already said that we would expand the Act so it covers private sector providers of public services. It is simply not acceptable for corporate executives to hide behind the excuse of commercial confidentiality when they are meant to be providing – as we’ve seen with Carillion, East Coast Mainline and Birmingham Prison this week so often failing – a public service.

But I think we should be more ambitious. Currently, ministers can veto FOI releases. On two occasions, this veto has been used to block information about the UK’s decision to pursue military action against Iraq. This can’t be right. We will look at ending the ministerial veto to prevent the Information Commissioner being overruled.

A more democratic, representative and independent BBC

Now we know that in the UK, one media organisation leads the way – the BBC. It is a great institution which rightly commands a special place in our national story and national life. Some powerful private corporate interests – and those who know the history will know exactly which ones I mean – have long wanted to break up and cannibalise the BBC.

I think that would be a disaster.

The BBC must not be broken up or privatised but should lead positive change, with stable, secure funding so it can drive up standards right across the sector.

But the BBC should be freed of government control, democratised and made representative of the country it serves to help it do that.

The BBC is meant to be independent, but its charter grants governments the power to appoint the chair and four directors of the board and set the level of the licence fee.

One proposal would simultaneously reduce government political influence on the BBC while empowering its workforce and the licence-fee payers who fund it. That would see the election of some BBC Board members, for example of executive directors by staff and non-executive directors by licence fee payers.

To help decentralise the BBC, national and regional boards could also be expanded, with elections by BBC staff and local licence fee payers. All boards should be representative of the country, with a minimum representation for women and minority groups.

These elections need not be difficult to run and could build on the BBC’s current experiments with digital sign-ins. Empowering BBC staff, who share a strong professional ethos and commitment to their work, should not only make top management more accountable, but bring the organisational values of the BBC closer to the public good.

The BBC is already trying to become more representative of the country it serves and that should be applauded. However, much more can be done to devolve programme making and editorial decisions to regional or national level. The regional boards proposal I have outlined could help drive this process.

I commend the BBC’s move to Salford, and Channel Four is also looking at proposals to move its headquarters out of London, which I also welcome. This should be encouraged as part of rebalancing our country and our society.

A better regional balance should help the diversity of our media workers. Currently 94 per cent of British journalists are white and 55 per cent are men. The industry is already trying to tackle this with the Project Diamond to monitor diversity.

Again, the BBC could lead the way by setting best practice with complete transparency on the makeup of its workforce by publishing equality data, including for social class, for all creators of BBC content, whether in-house or external.

Trade unions have a crucial role to play in this process but are too often excluded or marginalised. I am proud of my long relationship – indeed membership of the NUJ and salute their and other unions’ efforts to fight for media workers in a difficult and fast changing environment.

We know that sustainable quality journalism requires decent pay – and 24 per cent of journalists – that’s almost a quarter – now earn less than £20,000 per year for what is actually a very skilled job. Many journalists work for the love of their profession but they deserve a decent income and a secure contract too. Insecure employment, which many journalists increasingly face, is a curse on our society.

The BBC has made efforts to close its gender pay gap by 2020, but currently remains 7.6 per cent too large. We know that this problem is not unique to the BBC and improvements in pay across the sector must be shared.

As well as being paid a decent wage, media workers should be, as far as possible, freed from political and special interest pressures from above. We know that the BBC could be, and is I believe, tacitly influenced by government through the charter renewal process and the setting of the licence fee.

If we want an independent BBC, we should consider setting it free by placing it on a permanent statutory footing, with a new independent body setting the licence fee.

The licence fee itself is another potential area for modernisation. Originally, it was charged on radio sets. Then, as the technology developed, it became a radio and TV licence and finally just the TV licence.

In the digital age, we should consider whether a digital licence fee could be a fairer and more effective way to fund the BBC.

A digital licence fee, supplementing the existing licence fee, collected from tech giants and internet service providers, which extract huge wealth from our shared digital space, could allow a democratised and more plural BBC to compete far more effectively with the private multinational giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook. This could also help reduce the cost of the licence fee to poorer households.

With secure funding and empowered staff and audience, the BBC would be on a firm footing to move forward into the 21st century – educating, informing and entertaining, which is what it was set up to do, and be a vehicle to drive up standards for the rest of the media.

Empowering private sector journalists and audiences

But we should also think about ways to empower journalists, audiences and readers and reduce the power of media bosses and owners in the private sector.

One of the more radical and interesting ideas I’ve heard, which limits the power of unaccountable media barons without state control, is to give journalists the power to elect editors and have seats on boards for workers and consumers when a title or programme gets particularly large and influential.

Journalists at the Guardian now elect their editor by indicative ballot and there’s no reason why that precedent shouldn’t be spread more widely.

If, for example, an outlet gets a certain audience share, then its journalists could be given the right to elect their editors, making them accountable to their staff – and their journalistic ethics – as well as to corporate bosses and shareholders.

You could take this further at a higher audience share, with enforced shareholder dilution with equity and seats on the board awarded to workers and the readers, viewers or listeners.

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 it and own it.

British Digital Corporation

The final idea I’d to share with you today, which I hope will generate some new thinking, is about how we, as a public and the media, as an industry, take advantage of new technology.

I want us to be as ambitious as possible. 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 an inbuilt bias towards the few. Government is standing by and letting the few take advantage of the many using the technology.

So, one of the more ambitious ideas I’ve heard is to set up a publicly owned British Digital Corporation as a sister organisation to the BBC. The idea was floated by James Harding, former BBC Director of Home News in the Hugh Cudlipp lecture earlier this year.

A BDC could use all of our best minds, the latest technology and our existing public assets not only to deliver information and entertainment to rival Netflix and Amazon, but also to harness data for the public good.

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 at the present time.

The BDC could work with other institutions that the next Labour government will set up, like our National Investment Bank and alongside it the National Transformation Fund, Strategic Investment Board, Regional Development Banks and our public utilities to create new ways for public engagement, oversight and control of key levers of our economy.

It could become the access point for public knowledge, information and content currently held in the BBC archives, for example, the British Library and the British Museum. 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.

Conclusion

We need big, bold, radical thinking on the future of our media.

Without it, at best, we won’t take advantage of the opportunities in front of us as a country and for the kind of journalism that makes the world a better place. At worst, a few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and therefore our discourse.

I hope some of the ideas I’ve put forward today generate further ideas and the debate widens as Tom Watson and others in the Labour Party develop our policies in this area.

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.

Picture: Neil Hanna/PA Wire

 

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