The Guardian’s Poll Tax Moment

Yesterday the Guardian‘s very own ‘public-interest’ phone-hacker David Leigh announced a salvation plan for the beleaguered paper: a £2-a-month levy on every household broadband bill to bail out bankrupt newspapers. That’s right, they aren’t making money because people are not buying their papers, so they are now demanding a bailout. Leigh’s proposal argues:

“A small levy on UK broadband providers – no more than £2 a month on each subscriber’s bill – could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online. There are almost 20m UK households that are paying upwards of £15 a month for a good broadband connection, plus another 5m mobile internet subscriptions. People willingly pay this money to a handful of telecommunications companies, but pay nothing for the news content they receive as a result, whose continued survival is generally agreed to be a fundamental plank of democracy. A £2 levy on top – collected easily from the small number of UK service providers (BT, Virgin, Sky, TalkTalk etc) who would add it on to consumers’ bills – would raise more than £500 million annually. It could be collected by a freestanding agency, on the lines of the BBC licence fee, and redistributed automatically to “news providers” according to their share of UK online readership.”

The irony of this suggestion coming from inside Guardian towers has not been lost on media commentators across the spectrum. Regular readers will be well-versed in the hypocrisy of the editor Alan Rusbridger, who is also a director of Guardian Media Group, overseeing editorials on tax avoidance, high pay and spending cuts whilst sitting on the parent company board which shelters assets and cash in the Caymans. Rusbridger trousers half-a-million pounds per year while staff are fired by the dozen. Now they want a bailout, a £2-a-month levy on every broadband user in the country is a tax that would be as regressive as they come. This is the Guardian’s poll tax moment.

Guido has been saying it for years, this is yet further evidence that the less popular newspapers are thrashing about in their final death throes. Under threat from an ever-stronger online industry much of the print media can no longer sustain itself. Paywalls kill readership, news content is almost always available for free and – in the age of Twitter – papers are reporting yesterday’s news. This year the Guardian made losses of £75.6 million. Roy Greenslade asks “has David Leigh cracked it?” A more appropriate question would be whether Leigh, and his paper, have finally cracked up.



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