Irish Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill published

January 19, 2022

The Irish Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has published the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. It paves the way for big fines for infringements by tech companies.

The Bill will establish a new regulator, a Media Commission which will include the Online Safety Commissioner. It 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 regarding the protection of children, research, education, media literacy, journalistic and creative supports. 

Online safety

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. If there is 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.

Media regulation

The Media Commission will take on the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and regulate both television and radio broadcasters. In addition, it will regulate video on-demand services. The applicable regulations 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 to work alongside the existing quota of 50% for European Works for transmission time for television broadcasters.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

The Bill addresses the majority of the issues raised by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Media in their pre-legislative scrutiny report of the General Scheme of the Bill. This included recommendations to better define harmful online content, and about reporting requirements for online services, a bigger role for the Media Commission in education and the independence and resourcing of the Commission.

Some further recommendations will be addressed 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. Therefore, they will be considered by an expert group which will report within 90 days with its recommendations about how best to address these issues.