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Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill published

On the 12th January, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, published the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, paving the way for a new body to regulate online services and to reduce the availability of harmful content.

Key features of the Bill include

  • the establishment of a new regulator, the Media Commission; and
  • the dissolution of the existing regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland

The new regulator will be a multi-person Media Commission which will include an Online Safety Commissioner.

The Media Commission 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 new body 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.

“The 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.”

Minister Catherine Martin

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.

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.