Tax big tech ‘parasites’, says Olivia O’Leary

Journalist says Government ‘too scared’ to impose levy on internet companies

A levy should be imposed on big tech companies to protect quality journalism and to “take down parasites” who should have to pay for reporters’ work, according to  journalist Olivia O’Leary.  Photograph Nick Bradshaw

A levy should be imposed on big tech companies to protect quality journalism and to “take down parasites” who should have to pay for reporters’ work, according to journalist Olivia O’Leary. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

A levy should be imposed on big tech companies to protect quality journalism and to “take down parasites who should have to pay for our work,” according to veteran journalist Olivia O’Leary.

Addressing a meeting in Trinity College on the future of the media, Ms O’Leary said it was “about time” the Government started to come to terms with what needed to be done about the issue. However, she suggested, ministers were “too terrified” to tax internet companies properly.

Former journalist and chief executive of Nevalabs Mark Little and the chairman of the Economist Group Rupert Pennant-Rea, also spoke at the event organised by TCD’s school of social sciences and philosophy.

In her address titled “Pay for your news, cheapskates” Ms O’Leary offered up a withering assessment of social media platforms that claim to offer news for free but fail to “discriminate between what is reliable and what is random”.

She said too much pressure was being placed on journalists to “feed the almighty web” and in-depth interviews and investigative reporting were suffering as a result.

She said if mainstream media outlets were to survive then the cost of digital subscriptions would have to rise, something which would lead to people on lower incomes and younger people unaccustomed to paying for content having “less access to the truth.”

She pointed to the recent controversy over the Government’s placing of paid for content in newspapers while demanding that all references to the fact that the material was in fact advertising and not editorially driven be dropped.

She said editors of cash-strapped local newspapers had been forced to accept such terms and she warned that if such behaviour is permitted in the future then “governments and big corporations are going to be able to dictate the content” and those who manipulate the levers of power “won’t be held to account”.

‘Parasites’

She criticised the chief executive of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg for his “abuse of words like friends and community” and slated big tech companies which hoover up news content from traditional media calling them simply “parasites”.

However she concluded on a somewhat optimistic note suggesting that while “newspapers as we know them will disappear sadly” and terrestrial television will inevitably fade away but “good truthful journalism doesn’t have to”.

“If you aren’t scared by social media you aren’t paying attention,” Mr Little said referencing a tweet this week from the US President Donald Trump in which he announced plans for a retaliatory missile strike against Russian-backed Syrian government forces over its use of chemical weapons.

Mr Little expressed disbelief that the world had come to a point where Facebook could effectively elect a president of the United States who would subsequently take to Twitter to “declare war on Russia” and he suggested that such events had left most people “angry and scared by social media”.

While he warned of the dangers of the “trolls and the army of bots” Mr Little stressed that people should not “mix up social media with the tech companies that have controlled it” and he said the future may not be as dark and troubling as many believe.

He said Silicon Valley was “bankrupt” and the frequently quoted mantra of tech starts ups to “move forward and break things” needed to be replaced with a new more considered mantra which would see the social media landscape “move slowly and build a system that is new and authentic.”