The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin T.D., today published the Report of the Expert Group on an Individual Complaints Mechanism.
The Expert Group concluded that a mechanism allowing an individual to submit a complaint directly to Coimisiún na Meán, the new regulator that will be established through the OSMR Bill, is feasible. The Group recommended that Coimisiún na Meán should introduce an individual complaints mechanism on a phased basis, prioritising those complaints where the online content in question relates to children.
Minister Martin intends to seek Government approval to provide for the legislative basis for an individual complaints mechanism through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022. The Minister appointed the expert group earlier this year to examine the practicability of including an individual complaints mechanism in the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill 2022.This was in response to the strong support among stakeholders for such a mechanism and the recommendation in this regard by the Joint Oireachtas Committee which conducted pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Bill.
The Expert Group carried out an intensive programme of work, including public consultation and focussed discussions with the Australian e-Safety Commissioner, the Canadian Ministry responsible for online safety and the Irish Data Protection Commission.
The Expert Group emphasised that it would not be practicable for Coimisiún na Meán to begin operating the individual complaints mechanism on a short-term basis and would only be feasible if certain key conditions were met. In particular, the Expert Group advised that an individual complaints mechanism would not have its full or intended effect unless and until effective systemic regulation of the complaints handling processes of regulated online services has become well-established. The Group emphasised the importance of adequate resourcing and in that context noted that the costs of the mechanism could be recovered by way of a levy on the providers of designated online services. It is intended that any such levy would be put in place before any mechanism would commence. This systemic regulation will be introduced by the Online Safety Commissioner through the application of binding online safety codes to regulated online services.
The Minister welcomed the Group’s recommendations:
“When I established the Expert Group to look at the feasibility of establishing an individual complaints mechanism, I committed to delivering on its recommendations. Today, I’m very pleased that to announce that the Group has assessed all the issues and has concluded that it is feasible to bring in such a mechanism.
The Group has sensibly recommended a phased approach. This is important to ensure that any mechanism is sustainable. However, I think it’s important that we prioritise the wellbeing of our children and therefore I am very happy that the Group has recommended prioritising addressing harmful content like cyberbullying in any complaints mechanism.
I sincerely thank the Chair and members of the Expert Group for their commitment to quickly providing such a comprehensive report. I am confident that using the phased approach we can build an effective individual complaints mechanism that will work well with a systemic regulatory framework for online safety to reduce the availability and impact of harmful online content.My next step is to seek Government approval to table amendments to the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill to provide a legislative basis for recommendations of the Expert Group. I will do this as soon as possible.”
The Chair of the Expert Group, Isolde Goggin, said:
“I thank the other members of the Expert Group for their hard work over an intensive time period, and for generously sharing their professional experiences and extensive subject knowledge. I would also like to thank all those who responded to our consultation with useful, considered and thought-provoking inputs.
“While the Expert Group has recommended the establishment of an individual complaints mechanism, we are very cognisant of potential practical issues to be overcome, particularly around the potential volume of complaints which could be submitted through the mechanism.
“For this reason, it is not proposed to immediately establish an all-encompassing mechanism in terms of scope. It is important that Coimisiún na Meán first put in place effective systemic regulation of the internal complaints handling processes of regulated services. Subject to this, in the first instance the individual complaints mechanism should prioritise content pertaining to children. Over time, subject to the appropriate consideration of the associated practical issues, it will be possible to phase-in other cohorts and types of content.”
Press and Information Office
An Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meán
Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media
Tel: 087 6737338 / 087 7374427 Email: Website: Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media
Notes to Editor
- The report of the Online Safety Expert Group on an Individual Complaints Mechanism backs feasibility of introducing an individual complaints mechanism
- The Report makes 12 recommendations on the feasibility, structure and operation of an individual complaints mechanism.
- The Report identifies 9 dependencies key to the success of an individual complaints mechanism.
- The Report recommends a 4 stage approach to the implementation of an individual complaints mechanism.
- The Expert Group’s Report recommends that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill be amended, to provide for the introduction, on a phased basis, of an individual complaints mechanism.
- The Expert Group’s Report made a number of recommendations on the structure and operation of the individual complaints mechanism, including that:
- It should be structurally separate from the systemic regulatory functions of Coimisiún na Meán;
- Coimisiún na Meán should be enabled to handle complaints relating to non-offence-specific categories of harmful online content, as defined in the OSMR Bill;
- Coimisiún na Meán be enabled to triage and refer complaints to certain other bodies, such as An Garda Síochána; and
- That access to the complaints mechanism should be available (apart from in exceptional circumstances) to those complainants who have first exhausted the complaints process operated by the designated online service concerned.
- The Expert Group’s Report emphasises that the feasibility and success of the individual complaints mechanism was subject to a range of dependencies being met, including that:
- The individual complaints mechanism will not have its full or intended effect unless and until effective systemic regulation of complaints handling processes, through Online Safety Codes made by Coimisiún na Meán, has become well-established;
- Coimisiún na Meán must be provided with sufficient time to make online safety codes relating to complaints-handling and monitor their application before beginning to phase in the individual complaints mechanism;
- Coimisiún na Meán should be provided with sufficient discretion to handle and conclude complaints in the manner it deems most appropriate; and
- Coimisiún na Meán should be provided with sufficient resources to operate the mechanism, including by potential recourse to industry levy.
Approach to implementation
The Expert Group’s Report sets out a 4 stage approach to implementation of an individual complaints mechanism
- The development and application of relevant Online Safety Codes on complaints handling by Coimisiún na Meán;
- The monitoring of the compliance of designated online services with the online safety codes on complaints handling made by An Coimisiún over a period of at least 12 months;
- The development of an initial individual complaints scheme focused on one or more of the categories of non-offence specific harmful online content, e.g. cyberbullying, where the online content pertains to a child; and
- The development and publication of a work plan setting out how An Coimisiún shall work towards operating an individual complaints mechanism in full.
- Dáil Second Stage on the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is due to take place this week.
- Dáil Committee Stage on the Bill is due to begin in the second half of October.
Amendments to provide for an individual complaints mechanism, as recommended by the Expert Group, will tabled by the Minister at Dáil Committee Stage.A Press Release of 24 January 2022, marking the establishment of the Expert Group and setting out its terms of reference, is available here.
The ‘Report of the Expert Group on an Individual Complaints Mechanism’ can be found here.
Further information about the OSMR Bill can be found here, and the OSMR Bill, as passed by Seanad Éireann on 11 July 2022, here.
Members of the Expert Group
- Chair: Isolde Goggin, former Chairperson of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
- Brian O’Neill, independent academic expert on online safety for children and Deputy Chair of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety.
- Ana Niculescu, CEO of Hotline.ie.
- Ronan Lupton, Senior Counsel.
- Baroness Kidron, children’s rights advocate, Chair of 5Rights Foundation.
- Peter Tyndall, former Ombudsman, Information Commissioner, and Commissioner for Environmental Information.