The likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and other unregulated platforms are strangling tax-paying legitimate Jamaican media companies and do not contribute anything to the country, says Digicel Group Chairman Denis O’Brien.
He was speaking Wednesday (November 25) during a webinar hosted by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica under the theme ‘A Conversation on Digital Connectivity’.
O’Brien is himself invested in media businesses, having founded and backed the regional digital news platform Loop and heading the Irish media company, Communicorp.
On the matter of unregulated platforms reshaping the news and communications landscape, the man who founded Digicel said: “We have to build on the digital momentum. We are not going backward but forward. Many of us who run media operations in Jamaica, Loop, the Gleaner, the RJR Group, have to compete with unregulated platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. They pay no GCT, no tax and make no contribution to the country whereas we employ people, pay tax and do our part in contributing to Jamaica.
“If this is allowed to go unchecked, they will wipe out free media in the next five years. All their advertising dollars goes abroad, and nobody knows what is done with the data on people mined from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. They can propagate fake news, fail to adhere to journalistic practices and do whatever they want. This is killing legitimate businesses. The elephant in the room has to be addressed.”
This echoes the sentiments of Oliver Clarke, the late former chairman of the Gleaner Company, who foresaw this.
Back in 2015 Clarke said: “What Jamaica faces is that there are a number of foreign companies coming in and putting up programmes that solicit advertising and you have a lot of businesses that are not making their way. The Gleaner’s interest in this is trying to create an organisation that is viable, can last, and is Jamaican.”
As Jamaica looks to embrace the digital age and make it a major driver of the development of the country, greater connectivity is needed. The COVID-19 virus has exposed this, undermining education and businesses and the operation of the country.
At the webinar, President of the Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Diane Edwards called for greater private/public sector partnerships (PPP) for digital ventures that can help build a robust network and spearhead businesses in this field.
O’Brien gave a commitment that Digicel would contribute to a connectivity backbone if other parties made contributions to it as well. He also called for a moratorium on the cost of digital devices in Jamaica.
Vice Chairman of Musson Jamaica Melanie Subratie noted that, while there is a call for a pivot to a more digital economy, access to digital devices for many people is daunting due to costs. With people needing capacity on their phones she mooted the possibility of ‘banger phones’ – of which there are about a million in Jamaica – being converted to have the capabilities of smart phones while remaining affordable.