Jeremy Corbyn has consistently proven himself adept at diverting the national topic of conversation to minor matters. Forget anti-semitism, forget Brexit – let’s dissect the media instead. Not that the media isn’t worth talking about. I just think there are more pressing issues of concern right now, such as the imminent destruction of the country.
The swollen package of media reforms announced by Corbyn over recent days has attracted a fair bit of attention (you have to give it to Labour – they’re good at turning heads when need be). The usual critics abound, but I find myself broadly sympathetic to what Corbyn is trying to achieve, even if some of the specific proposals are misguided.
They come from an awareness that Britain’s media industry has some sizeable flaws; Reporters Without Borders ranks us at No. 40 in the world for press freedom (falling behind the Nordic nations, like in so much else) and the frothing inaccuracies of the Murdoch tabloid press do not require repeating. More dangerously, we know that private technology firms like Facebook were complicit in an operation to engineer the Leave result in the EU referendum, which could potentially lead to criminal charges against Vote Leave and/or its members. Even now, Facebook and other multinational companies are allowed to operate with relatively free rein, even though they have provided a platform for the hacking of democracy on both sides of the Atlantic.
As someone who would like to work in the media in some capacity someday, I cannot help but conjure some opinions on this. So here they are. More for my own benefit of clarity than anyone else’s. Unless you enjoy reading my opinions, in which case it’s your lucky day!
The Tech Tax
The tech tax was the announcement, but the devil is in the detail.
Intentional or not, proposing that the BBC be partially funded by taxing tech companies such as Google and Facebook more, and suggesting that poorer households could have their license fee subsidized, opens the doorway to the abolishment of the license fee. If the license fee is to be tiered, and some of the BBC’s budget is to come from tax, then why not just fund the whole thing through general taxation? The flat license fee is universal, meaning rich and poor alike fork out the same, whereas progressive taxation would mean the rich pay more, thereby providing the BBC with even more money to continue its fantastic work.
Equally, the license fee model allows for people to opt-out, getting their content fix from Amazon Prime and Netflix (which would still get the Beeb money if Labour gets in – damned if you do, damned if you don’t) rather than paying £150 a year for TV you don’t watch or want. Under general taxation, people’s money would automatically go to the BBC whether they like it or not.
Then again, our money goes to plenty of things, not all of those things we will directly use or come into contact with. What’s one more?
I think a good litmus test for any and all policy proposals is to consider them two-pronged. First, does this idea work in theory (i.e. can you produce a good set of bullet points)? Second, and most important, does it work in practice?
The notion of the public electing the BBC’s board of governors passes the first test, then falls flat on its face in the second round. Turnout for such an election would be so infinitesimal that it would only lead to radical fringe candidates getting through, commissioning a surge in political and wildlife programming. It is best to keep the board appointment-only.
However, the broader point about papers being able to elect their own editors is interesting. I’m very much into the idea of workplace democracy, particularly in institutions such as journalism, where their work has a profound impact on the public sphere. The same critique would not apply, as staff would likely have no choice but to cast their vote. It would encourage accountability to the paper and prevent damaging top-down management, along with encouraging promotion in the workplace.
Really, the biggest knock against such a policy is just how awkward it would be for the losing candidates. The lunch queue would grow considerably tenser, and divisions could easily open up on teams where they need not be. That could wind up being bad for the public.
Charity Status for Not-for-Profit Journalism
Subsidise Public Service Journalism with the Tech Tax
Are You Working Class?
Ah. Publicizing the social class of BBC employees.
I find something deeply unsettling in the idea that the BBC should publicly unveil which social class its employees and contractors belong to because social class can often be a personal, private matter. Indeed, how does one calculate class?
I’m just gonna use myself as an example because I am to hand and I have thoughts on class. I was raised in a single-parent welfare household. We lived on benefits until I was fourteen. However, I speak with undertones of received pronunciation, spend a fair chunk of my time writing political commentary on the internet, and walk around wearing a tweed jacket.
Am I working-class because of my household income, both current and historical? Am I middle-class because of my individual characteristics? Does class derive purely from income or do social characteristics play a role too?
I would not be comfortable slotting myself into either box and would be even more uncomfortable being allotted a social class by some undisclosed group of men in suits. Unlike race or gender, class cannot be easily defined. Dividing society along class lines is relatively arbitrary when we should be working towards a classless society of unfettered social mobility. Indeed, if a working-class guy ends up as a producer at the BBC, would they still call themselves working class?
I am all for improving access opportunities for those on a low income to get into big industries. But I don’t think class is in itself an indicator as to the talent and skills of an individual.
I’m not entirely sure why Corbyn’s proposed British Digital Corporation wouldn’t be another chapter of the BBC. Nor am I sure that a state-operated social media network is a good idea. Nor do I like the notion of introducing online voting/referenda when we so poorly protect our democracy as it stands now. Putin would fucking love it.
Pooling knowledge, culture, and expertise into a free-to-use digital enterprise, coupled with Labour’s other national regeneration projects (and more energy devoted to connecting the entire nation to WiFi), is a really cool idea. But I reckon caution should be exercised. At least until we know how to look after our web.
This is a good thread on the matter which explains things much better than I could.
My relationship with Corbynism is frustrating. I’m frequently in support of many Corbynite policies, and even when I’m not, I appreciate the fact that some new thinking is at least occurring in a political party – particularly when Labour often feels stuck in the past. This relationship grows even more tenuous every time a new quote, photo or video surfaces of Corbyn speaking blatant anti-semitic statements. There comes a point when a man who seems to believe that Jewish people should be other-ed is no longer helping to deliver the Labour government we so desperately need. Perhaps it has already come.