Virgin Media calls for new regulator for online content

Media firm wants alternative to BAI and for online advertising regime to stay unchanged

Virgin Media is seeking a new regulator to oversee video-sharing platform services  that host and distribute content online. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Virgin Media is seeking a new regulator to oversee video-sharing platform services that host and distribute content online. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

A new regulator separate to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) should be established to deal with online content, Virgin Media has said, adding that the current online advertising regime shouldn’t change.

In a submission to a public consultation on the regulation of harmful content on online platforms, Virgin Media called for a new regulator to oversee video-sharing platform services (VSPS) that host and distribute content online including user-generated content.

This would have the effect of including videos uploaded to YouTube or live broadcasts on Facebook Live.

Virgin’s submission argued that the BAI should continue as the regulator for traditional broadcasting services including radio and television.

The media company was responding to a public consultation concerning implementation of an EU directive – the revised audiovisual media services directive – which has to be transposed into Irish law by September 19th, 2020.

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton has previously noted the digital world, which provides “huge opportunities” also presents “new risks”.

Online Safety Act

“The situation at present where online and social media companies are not subject to any oversight or regulation by the State for the content which is shared on their platforms is no longer sustainable. I believe that the era of self-regulation in this area is over and a new Online Safety Act is necessary.”

The purpose of the department’s consultation was to seek the view of how a new law would regulate video-sharing platforms and on-demand services such as Virgin Media and RTÉ’s player.

And while this is in line with an EU-wide approach, the Republic’s legislation will have the effect of regulating companies like Facebook and Google across the EU as a result of the country-of-origin principle of the single market.

One option the department will consider is whether the BAI should be restructured into a media commission which is responsible for all regulatory strands. Alternatively, it will assess the option which Virgin prefers, namely that a second regulator be established.

“Based on the current regime for the BAI, it would seem appropriate that VSPS should fund the creation of any new regulatory agency, whether based on a percentage of revenues generated in the State or otherwise,” Virgin said in its submission.

Regulatory responsibility

“Regardless of whether regulatory responsibility for VSPS resides with a new agency or is given to the BAI, broadcasters should not be adversely impacted (through an increase in broadcasting levies).”

On the topic of advertising on online platforms like the Virgin Media player, the company said there should be a variance to the rules and requirements that apply to those services and traditional services.

“The regulatory framework around advertising needs to be flexible and reflect the role and purpose of the service,” the company said.

“The current regulatory framework does not apply to online services and Virgin Media does not believe this should change.

“In the event that the department introduces new provisions that propose changing the current regulatory framework, Virgin Media believes this should only happen once the BAI has consulted with industry players and undertaken an appropriate regulatory impact assessment.”