“Giant tech firms” are hiring lawyers and lobbyists to “run rings” around politicians and regulators, Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson has claimed.
He comments come during a speech he made at the Byline Festival in East Sussex on Saturday as he opened an hour-long debate entitled Monopolies of Truth alongside panellists including investigative journalist Nick Davies and Ivor Gaber, a political journalism professor at the University of Sussex.
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There was a need for better regulation of online “giants” like Google and Facebook, and an “innovation test” should be brought in as part of competition rules, said Watson.
“We need to look at the reintroduction of more public interest tests when it comes to the digital era. Not just labour protections, but also holding people to account for their corporate leadership of Organisations,” he went on.
“We have to stop giant technology companies hoovering up all our creative start-ups in the digital and media space.
“They are becoming monopolies that are stopping new media models of having any chance of competing in the new media market.
“It’s Government’s job to get that market right. That’s why our media is regulated, it’s important for our democracy.
“These giant tech firms are hiring lawyers and lobbyists to run rings around our politicians and regulators.”
He said “press barons” should not be replaced with “anonymous data giants”, adding: “We don’t want to replace Murdoch with Mark Zuckerberg. We need to shake up our media market.”
Watson said new “models” of public interest journalism were needed to address society’s “democratic deficit” and expressed concern at the rapid closure of local newspapers – which he claimed left large areas of the country unable to properly hold those in power to account.
His comments followed a number of “big ideas” for the future of the British media laid out by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during his speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival last month, including creating a “public interest media fund” from a tax on tech giants.
Watson, 51, also told the audience he wanted to launch a campaign against “global sugar interests”, describing “sugar companies” as the “tobacco companies of our generation in the way they mislead people”.
He told the packed tent: “I don’t know if you noticed but I have lost quite a bit of weight recently.”
He joked it was “not just worrying about the future of the Labour Party, it was deliberate.”
The idea came after he claimed some broadcast journalists suggested to him there was an “unwritten rule” not to feature “negative health stories about sugar”.
The four-day festival took place in Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest near Uckfield, East Sussex.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville