Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, is publishing the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, paving the way for a new watchdog to regulate online services and to reduce the availability of harmful content.
Minister Martin has now received Government approval to commence recruitment of an Online Safety Commissioner, who will act as a powerful regulator to enforce accountability in the sector.
The Bill will establish a new regulator, a multi-person Media Commission which will include the Online Safety Commissioner. This new body will be responsible for overseeing updated regulations for broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety created by the Bill.
The Media Commission will also have roles in relation to the protection of children, research, education, media literacy, journalistic and creative supports. In carrying out these roles the Commission will support and promote an open, trusted and pluralistic media and online environment.
Minister Martin said:
“The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill marks a watershed moment as we move from self-regulation to an era of accountability by platforms for online safety and a more joined up approach to audiovisual media regulation. I am pleased to be publishing this landmark piece of legislation.
“One of the most important aspects of the Bill is that it establishes a new, powerful regulator to enforce accountability in the sector. The Media Commission will include an Online Safety Commissioner to enforce not just this legislation, but also additional legislation and measures that will be brought forward at European level in the coming years.
“I would like to thank the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media for their comprehensive pre-legislative scrutiny report of the General Scheme of the Bill. I am happy to say that the majority of the 33 recommendations contained in the report are addressed in the Bill I am publishing.
“There are a number of recommendations, including those regarding the provision of an individual complaints mechanism for harmful online content, that require further consideration and which I intend to address through potential amendments to the Bill at Committee Stage. In this regard, I will shortly be establishing an expert group to report to me within 90 days with recommendations for how to best address this issue.”
It will be the role of the Online Safety Commissioner to oversee the regulatory framework for online safety. As part of the framework, the Commissioner will devise binding online safety codes that will set out how regulated online services, including certain social media services, are expected to deal with certain defined categories of harmful online content on their platforms. The defined categories of harmful online content include criminal material, serious cyber-bullying material and material promoting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.
The Online Safety Commissioner will have a range of powers to ensure compliance, including the power to require the provision of information and to appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations. In the event of a failure to comply with a relevant online safety code, and subject to court approval, the Media Commission will have the power to sanction non-compliant online services, including through financial sanctions of up to €20m or 10% of turnover.
The Media Commission will take on the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and regulate both television and radio broadcasters. The Commission will also be responsible for the regulation of video on-demand services. The regulations that apply to these services will be set out in Media Codes and Rules and will address issues such as programme standards, advertising, sponsorship, product placement, accessibility and other matters.
There will also be a new 30% quota for European Works in the catalogues of video on-demand services. There is already an existing quota of 50% for European Works for transmission time for television broadcasters.
The Bill addresses the majority of the 33 recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Mediain their pre-legislative scrutiny report of the General Scheme of the Bill. This includes recommendations in relation to better defining harmful online content, reporting requirements for online services, a bigger role for the Media Commission in education and the independence and resourcing of the Commission.
Minister Martin intends to address a number of further recommendations through potential amendments at Committee Stage. This includes the recommendations to include provision for an individual complaints mechanism for harmful online content. These recommendations raise a number of complex practical and legal issues, including in relation to scalability, due process and timeliness. In order to ensure that these matters are fully considered, the Minister intends to establish an expert group which will consider these issues and best practices by other regulators. The group will then report to the Minister within 90 days with recommendations for how to address these issues.