Having been in development for a number of years, the Government has published the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill (the "Bill").
Some of the key provisions are as follows:
- Establishment of a New Regulator
The Bill establishes a new regulator and a Media Commission to which an Online Safety Commissioner will be appointed. The new Media Commission will replace the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
The Online Safety Commissioner will be responsible for implementing the new regulatory framework for online safety which includes establishing binding safety codes that will set out how online services deal with defined categories of harmful online content.
The Bill provides for a number of factors that the Commission may consider in creating the codes which include the level of availability of harmful online content on the online media service, the risk of exposure to harmful content when using the online media service, the risk to children, and the rights of providers of online media services.
The Media Commission will be given a broad range of powers to ensure that online media services comply with the regulations. These include powers to:
- Establish and maintain a register of media service providers
- Ensure that services comply with the regulations
- Require the provision of information
- Appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations, issue search warrants and question people under oath
- Block access to certain online services
- Issue content limitation notices and warnings
- Impose industry levies on video on-demand services, such as Netflix, Apple TV or Disney Plus
- Prosecute summary offences
- Imposition of Fines
The Bill provides that where online services fail to comply with an online safety code, the Commission will have the power to impose financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of their annual turnover. Any fine will be subject to Court approval.
If the online service remains non-compliant, the Commission may hold individual executives criminally liable.
- Audiovisual Media Services Directive
The Bill also transposes the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive into Irish law. As set out in the Bill, the Commission has the power to regulate audiovisual on-demand media services such as Sky and Virgin Media. Services will be required to guarantee prominence to Irish public service channels and content.
- Complaints Mechanisms
The Commission will create a complaints scheme that will allow for nominated bodies to bring concerns in relation to online safety matters to the attention of the Commission. The Bill does not provide for an individual complaints mechanism, however Minister Catherine Martin stated that further amendments to the Bill may occur as it enters Committee Stage. One of the considerations involved with an individual complaints mechanism is that, as many online media service platforms have their headquarters in Ireland, this could result in the Commission handling all complaints from EU citizens.
In line with the current climate and the pressure mounting on social media companies to take responsibility for the harmful content on their platforms, it will be interesting to see whether any further amendments will be made to the Bill as it progresses through the legislative process.
Despite the complexities associated with this new regulatory framework, it has been suggested that the Bill may be enacted as early as the beginning of summer 2022.
Written by Barry Fagan and James Roche.
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