In June 1855 the Tax on Knowledge, officially the last penny of stamp duty on newspapers, was abolished. In September of that year The Daily Telegraph appeared, priced one old penny, and the flowering of Fleet Street began.
Since then newspapers in Britain have been free of all sales taxes. In the Observer today Peter Preston thinks the unthinkable: value added tax on newspapers as a green tax.
He is not advocating it but takes a wide-ranging look at the media and their green credentials, or lack of them, the the face of global warming.
He imagines a new generation of politicians on a train home from the party conference and presents some of the questions. Among them is this:
Why carry on giving VAT exemptions to dead newsprint forests, when the internet can carry the news and the democratic debate so much faster and cleaner?
Another question on the train:
If we can ban cigarette advertising because it costs lives, and alcopop advertising because it harms kids, why can’t we ban airline ads, too, if it will help save the planet?
Preston is advocating nothing and concludes:
I’m not making up such arguments: only extrapolating. I’d fear harm or disaster along many of these routes. I would certainly feel the pain. But pain, and appalling reality, is finally becoming a part of this game on both sides of the camera, as the champions of cataclysm examine their navels.
That is something to think about. Read Peter Preston’s “Fleet Street’s sins of emission” in full.