The proposed new Media Commission is expected to have a level of staffing similar to the office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), an Oireachtas committee has been told.
Tríona Quill, an official from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, said it was working with the Dept of Public Expenditure and Reform on a business case for the new entity, which it was envisaged would grow quickly to approximately the size of the DPC.
That would involve approximately 180 staff, including those already working for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which is to be subsumed into the new regulatory body.
Ms Quill was addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht and Media on the general scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.
Senator Malcolm Byrne said he was glad to hear of the intention to scale up the new body quickly, but that the DPC already struggles to deal with its workload.
He asked whether the proposed new regime could require people to identify themselves when opening social media accounts, in the way people have to do when opening a bank account, and how the new regime would deal with content that was “lawful but awful”.
Ms Quill said the department was working with the office of the Attorney General on introducing the legislation, which was on a tight timescale.
There was a “tricky balance to strike” between people’s right to freedom of expression, and the need to protect people, and these were topics that needed to be examined in depth.
Responding to deputy Brendan Griffin, who raised the issue of protecting children from online content, she said the proposed new regulator would have "substantial powers" and will be able to ensure greater safety for everyone.
Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan asked whether the definition of “harmful material” could be extended to cover consistent messaging that was clearly designed to undermine public health measures.
Ms Quill said that dealing with disinformation about matters such as Covid-19 was a difficult area in terms of getting the balance right. The proposed law provides for adding new categories of harmful content by way of an engagement process with the Oireachtas.
“It is an area that would need a lot of work to ensure that the correct balance is struck,” she said.
Deputy Johnny Mythen asked about the composition of the commission and was told it is to be limited to six commissioners, with the government initially intending to appoint three, along with an executive chair.
The new commission will include an Online Safety Commissioner, and will regulate editorially-controlled audiovisual services – broadcasting and video on-demand – as well as video-sharing platform services.
One of the main purposes of the Bill is to transpose the EU’s revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive, published in December 2018.
Ireland missed the deadline for the transposition of the directive, and the European Commission has initiated infringement proceedings. It has begun similar action against 22 other member states, the committee heard.