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A newspaper tax on internet subscriptions is no solution to newspapers’ woes, says Robin Pascoe.

A government committee set up to look at what steps can be taken to make sure Dutch newspapers survive – under the flag preserving the diversity of the press – is suggesting that all of us who use the internet should have to pay.
By tagging a few euros to the price of an internet subscription, millions of euros will be generated to beef up innovation in the newspaper sector and so make sure that newspapers survive the internet age, the committee says.
The steam train came and went, the telephone replaced morse code and washing machines took over from the copper boiler. But for some reason, newspapers are considered sacrosanct.
Perhaps instead we should start by looking at the cause of the problem? Newspapers are in trouble because fewer and fewer people are subscribing to them – young people in particular have turned to either freesheets or the internet for their news. And that means not paying a cent.
The news websites which are proving so popular were, of course, mostly set up by the newspapers themselves – providing the perfect example of how to shoot yourself in the foot. They give their own news away and Internet advertising is not enough to compensate. So why should the rest of us pick up the bill?
But the newspaper websites also face competition from the public sector broadcasters – whose tv and radio empires are easily fleshed out with a news website, complete with audio and visuals. And the taxpayer picks up the bill. And that is unfair competition.
Then there is the market itself. The Netherlands has five major daily newspapers – four of which are owned by the same company (NRC, Volkskrant, Trouw and AD). Perhaps that is just too many for such a small country? Newspapers do go bankrupt – witness developments in the US. And do we really need five different business news sections, all happily recycling the same agency copy?
Newspapers do indeed bring with them great traditions, but times change as well. Internet, global tv, mobile phones have all changed our approach and attitude to news. News is instant. Millions of people knew within minutes that there had been an attack during the Queen’s Day celebrations on April 30. We did not need a newspaper to tell us.
Of course, we do need to work out how to pay for hard news, quality reporting and investigative journalism. But if we stop being romantic about the concept of the newspaper itself we might be able to start looking for real solutions.
Robin Pascoe is a founder of DutchNews.nl

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