Sounds insane? Well, that seems to be the advice a special committee is going to give the Dutch government today.
The so called ‘Brinkman committee’ was recently assigned with the task of coming up with course of action for the Dutch newspaper industry. Today, they will present their report (download it here, in Dutch). The most important advice will be to put a special tax on ALL internet access subscriptions.
Every family would pay a 2 euro yearly tax resulting in an extra 12 million a year.
The resulting funds will be used on innovative projects. These innovative projects might help find a solution for the seemingly unavoidable demise of the news industry.
As you would expect there are thousands of angry comments on the online articles who reported on the issue this morning. They compare it to paying a ‘car tax’ to save the Horse-Drawn Carriage Industry. Or taxing email to fund the post office because people are sending less paper around.
I can’t say I’m to eager to pay a tax and see that money end up at newspapers to spend on projects. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the ability of ‘old media’ to come up with innovative stuff. If history is any lesson we don’t have a reason to expect anything to come from that.
But lets ignore the ‘not with my money’ sentiment for a minute and think about the “newspaper industry” definition.
If you would regard newspaper as simple commercial products that have outlasted their demand then I guess we shouldn’t spend another dime on them. If they can’t survive as independent companies they shouldn’t. Survival of the fittest, free market economy and all that.
You could also regard them as essential services that guard democracy and report on issues we would never hear about unless there was investigative reporting by professional journalists. You could image wanting to save that, right? An independent press that receives its money from a government just like some independent movies, museums and other projects that are an important part of our culture.
Would a government supplied tax be the solution then to save newspapers? Should we start calling it ‘the newspaper movement’ instead of ‘industry’? Maybe. But if these same newspapers would become government funded wouldn’t that void the classic ‘guardians of democracy’ argument? There wouldn’t be a free press if that same press would be owned, funded or even subsidized by the government.
No matter which way you seem to slice this, it comes out feeling all wrong.
UPDATED: Dutch parliament will ignore the commission’s advice and has decided against an Internet tax. I’m sure that is a huge relief for a LOT of people.
UPDATED 2: the UK has a similar Internet Tax plan. That plan is not meant to save a struggling industry however but keep the UK “at the leading edge of the global digital economy”.