Online safety and media watchdog will have ‘real teeth’, says Minister

New Bill could mean fines of up to €20m for companies who fail to remove harmful content

Minister for Media Catherine Martin:   Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill ‘marks a watershed moment as we move from self-regulation to an era of accountability’. Photograph: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Minister for Media Catherine Martin: Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill ‘marks a watershed moment as we move from self-regulation to an era of accountability’. Photograph: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

 

A new online safety and media watchdog will have a staff of up to 300 people and will have “real teeth”, the Minister for Media, Catherine Martin, has said.

The Minister on Wednesday launched the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill after it was signed off at a Cabinet meeting.

The Bill establishes a new regulator and a media commission which will set regulations for broadcast and video-on-demand services.

It also provides for an online safety commissioner to enforce the legislation.

The commissioner will set binding safety codes to outline how social media services should deal with harmful content including criminal material, serious cyberbullying material and material promoting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.

Online platforms such as Google-owned YouTube and Facebook could be fined as much as 10 per cent of their Irish turnover if they fail to comply with the new rules. The sanctions involve either a fine of up to €20 million or 10 per cent of a company’s turnover.

Any fine would be subject to court approval.

Content levy

The Bill also contains a provision allowing for a content levy to be applied to any overseas-based video-on-demand company or broadcaster targeting Irish audiences. Industry bodies have lobbied for a substantial content fund to be set up from such a levy to support the Irish audio-visual sector. Ms Martin said the media commission will have to analyse the issue of a content levy itself and to determine what the pros and cons will be.

Announcing the new measures, Ms Martin said the Bill “marks a watershed moment as we move from self-regulation to an era of accountability in online safety”.

“It also puts in place a more joined-up approach to the regulation of television and video-on-demand services.”

The new media commission will take on the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and regulate both TV and radio broadcasters.

Asked about the pay of the new commissioner, Ms Martin said it had not yet been decided upon. She said the new body would have about 300 staff in total when it is up and running. It is hoped that the legislation will be passed and the relevant structures in place as early as this summer.

‘Real powers’

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said that the Bill “appears to have taken on board most of the recommendations of the Oireachtas media committee, particularly around an online safety commissioner with real powers. We will be working to develop the legislation as it passes through the Oireachtas.

“This will be seen in time as one of the most important pieces of legislation that this Government enacts, bringing the era of self-regulation by social media companies to an end.”

Chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said the Bill “needs to be a firm line in the sand” and that it “has every potential to put an end to the age of self-regulation by the big tech and social media giants and create a level of accountability that is sorely needed”.

“It could open the window to a safer online world for children and young people in this country. The political will to ensure that it does this will need to be carried from publication today through amendment stages to ensure that key gaps in the general scheme are addressed going forward.”