Transcript for Our Webinar on the Media & International Taxation
This was one of our favorite webinars so far and now you can read everything that was shared!
Find below the full transcript for our live event on the role of the media in international taxation, starring Stephanie Johnston of Tax Notes in the US, Todd Buell of MLex/Law360 in Belgium and Hamza Ali of Bloomberg Tax in the UK.
A huge thank you to our three panelists who tackled plenty of questions dealing with their specific roles in the various ongoing international tax discussions, policy making in general, and relaying information to industry professionals and the general public in an easy-to-understand, objective and interesting way, among a host of others.
Make sure to download the transcript below and share with your network.
For now, here are some of the event's main highlights!
What does it take to make a highly technical subject such as international tax easier to understand to the casual reader? In other words, how can one best communicate about sometimes very complex tax topics in the most accurate and understandable way?
Todd Buell: "It's one of the challenges that I know I face as a journalist…because I'll admit I did not study tax, I did not study law, so some of this stuff is a little bit foreign to me… What I've tried to learn is to ask questions of experts, ask questions of those with more knowledge and ask it in ways… I had a former boss say, "If you had to explain it to a fourth grader, how would you explain it?" Sometimes what I do is I just ask people in laypersons terms, "How would you explain this?" and sometimes that allows for me to get the information in a clearer way. I like doing it that way also because I think not everybody who reads our site is a lawyer or is a very high level tax professional. There are a lot of people I think who are interested in this material, especially when it pertains to big multinational companies, you know, Apple or Google, and they're interested in the tax story but they don't know all of the legal details, let's say, so explaining it in an understandable way is important."
Different perspectives abound in international taxation. How do you strike a balance between all of them when reporting the news? How do you handle remaining as objective as possible?
Hamza Ali: "I think it's always important to try and figure out who the protagonists in whatever it is you're writing are and then to try and work backwards from that. Because I think sometimes things aren't exactly balanced. For example, a new policy that's specifically targeted at low-income people, you don't need high-income people as a voice in that, as a voice of balance, for example. The idea is trying to figure out who the protagonists are, who the main actors are and what are their interests and then you can try and figure out how much needs to be said in balance. I think the difficult bit with this, though, is always when you have to take a view, and there are occasions where you have to take a view. For example, "this is bad for this person, this is good for this person" is you taking a view and that can be quite a difficult balancing act. We have a policy in our news team that we have to get a range of voices wherever possible, and I think that helps because it forces you to think about it, even when you're just trying to rush a piece out, it forces you to think about I have to get this voice in there too. So you think about what it is they need to say in this piece to properly cover the context."
As a journalist, do you have a degree of influence on policymaking and shaping politicians views on the subject?
Stephanie Johnston: "I can speak to journalism in general. We've seen it so many times before. I mean we've got Lux Leaks, which was a big exposé that really shaped public opinion about tax rulings. We've got automatic exchange of information on tax rulings now. Panama Papers was huge. That really put the screws on policymakers and lawmakers to do something about how people can shift around their assets and hide them from authorities. When I first started my job, the UK press was really putting pressure on UK lawmakers on tax avoidance with Starbucks and reporting on Google and all these multinationals and how little they pay in tax. So I think journalism has that role to play to put the pressure on policymakers to do something to address a tax issue that is unfair, that the public perceives as unfair, and that's going to be more important now with the coronavirus recoveries… So I think journalists do have a role in that regard putting pressure and exposing some of these practices that are foreign to the general public."