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Safety czar to clamp down on harmful online content
Minister Catherine Martin at the launch of the bill Pic: RollingNews.ie

14 Jan 2022 / legislation Print

Safety czar to clamp down on harmful online content

A watchdog to regulate online services and clamp down on harmful content is provided for in a new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

Catherine Martin (Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media) is to begin a recruitment process for an online safety commissioner, who will act as a “powerful regulator to enforce accountability” in the sector.

The commissioner will operate as part of a Media Commission that will be responsible for overseeing updated broadcasting regulation, as well as video on-demand services, and the new regulatory framework for online safety created by the bill.

Media regulation

The Media Commission will take on the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, and will regulate both television and radio broadcasters.

The Media Commission will also have roles in:

  • Child protection,
  • Research,
  • Education,
  • Media literacy, journalistic and creative supports.

The minister said that the bill marked a “watershed moment” in the  move from self-regulation to an era of platform accountability, and a joined-up approach to audio-visual media regulation.

She added that the commissioner would also enforce additional legislation, and measures that would be brought forward at European level.

Pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media resulted in 33 recommendations, the majority of which are contained in the new draft bill.

The  commissioner will oversee the regulatory framework for online safety, and devise binding codes that set out how regulated online services – including social media services – deal with certain harmful online content on their platforms.

The defined categories of harmful online content include criminal material, serious cyber-bullying material, and material promoting self-harm, suicide and eating disorders.

Non-binding online-safety guidance materials and advisory notices will push a “safety-first” culture of compliance.

Range of powers

A range of powers to ensure compliance will include the power to require the provision of information, and to appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations.

Subject to court approval, the Media Commission will have the power to sanction non-compliant online services – including through financial sanctions of up to €20 million, or 10% of turnover. 

Video on-demand services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, will be regulated on programme standards, advertising, sponsorship, product placement, accessibility and other matters. 

There will also be a new 30% quota for creative work of European origin in the catalogues of video on-demand services. 

A quota of 50% of transmission time exists for television broadcasters.

Media Commission powers include:

  • To impose industry levies to fund its operations,
  • To require the provision of information from regulated services,
  • To appoint authorised officers to investigate suspected non-compliance,
  • To seek to impose administrative financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of turnover in respect of non-compliance,
  • To issue notices to end non-compliance,
  • Power to seek the prosecution of senior management of designated online services for failure to comply with a notice to end non-compliance,
  • To seek to block access to certain online services,
  • To issue content limitation notices to designated online services in respect of individual pieces of harmful online content,
  • A “super-complaints” scheme where nominated bodies, including expert NGOs in areas such as child protection, can bring systemic issues to the attention of the Media Commission.

The bill also allows for greater flexibility on advertising placement for TV broadcasters, moving from a 20% hourly limit to a 20% limit for certain blocks of hours, for example between 6pm and midnight.

It also makes provision for a content-production levy and content-production scheme to support the creation of European works – including independent Irish productions.


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