In considering the future Media Commission, it is important not to confuse it with the Future of Media Commission, which is an entirely different body that just happens to involve some of the same words and concepts.
Mixing up the two would be especially unfortunate given that the present investigations and deliberations of the Future of Media Commission have no bearing on the legislation setting up the Media Commission.
To recap, the Future of Media Commission is an independent panel established by the Coalition under the Programme for Government to explore questions of public service media funding – how it should be split, how it should be collected and perhaps what terms and conditions should be attached to the money.
The Media Commission, which doesn’t exist yet, is designed as a cross between the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (due to be subsumed within it) and a new online watchdog, and will be the State agency established under the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill once it is enacted.
This bill, now undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, will transpose the European Union’s revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive into law. In common with most EU members, the State has already missed the September 2020 deadline for doing so.
The Future of Media Commission and the future Media Commission have always been on separate, if parallel, paths, but it was still odd to hear this explained out loud this week at a session of the Oireachtas media committee, after Fine Gael senator Micheál Carrigy understandably wondered if the recommendations of the Future of Media Commission, due in July, might be included in the bill "to avoid having to introduce further legislation".
An official from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media indicated that because of the “tight timescale” for transposing the EU directive, the bill wouldn’t be waiting for the outcome of the Future of Media Commission – getting the Media Commission “up and running” was a matter of “real urgency”.
One aspect of the EU directive that Minister for Media Catherine Martin feels is slightly less urgent, however, is a content levy requiring international video-on-demand services to make a contribution to the funding of national content. This is allowed for in principle in the bill, but that's it.
The reality of a content levy – much like the reality of any meaningful changes to public media funding – remains some distance away, and may continue to be once the Media Commission is no longer a future concern and the Future of Media Commission is in the past.