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Report backs online-content complaints system
Pic: RollingNews.ie

21 Sep 2022 / technology Print

Report backs online-content complaints system

A report from an expert group has decided that a mechanism to allow people to submit complaints directly to a new media watchdog is feasible.

The group’s report said, however, that the mechanism for individual complaints should be introduced on a phased basis, prioritising complaints linked to online content concerning children.

Coimisiún na Meán is the new regulator that will be established through the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill 2022.

Backing from committee

Catherine Martin (Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, pictured) had appointed the expert group earlier this year to look at whether it was practicable to include such a mechanism in the proposed legislation.

She will now seek Government approval to provide for the legislative basis for the complaints, by tabling amendments to the OSMR Bill at committee stage next month.

An Oireachtas committee that carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill had backed the inclusion of an individual complaints process.

Levy proposed

The expert group’s report stressed that it would not be practicable for Coimisiún na Meán to begin operating the individual complaints mechanism on a short-term basis, and that it would be feasible only if certain key conditions were met.

It warned that the process would not have its full or intended effect unless and until effective systemic regulation of the complaints-handling processes of regulated online services had become well-established.

The report also emphasised the importance of adequate resourcing, noting that the costs could be recovered through a levy on the providers of designated online services.

The department said that it intended that any such levy would be put in place before any mechanism would start.

Practical issues

Minister Martin welcomed the phased approach as “sensible”, adding that any complaints mechanism had to be sustainable.

“I think it’s important that we prioritise the wellbeing of our children and, therefore, I am very happy that the group has recommended prioritising addressing harmful content like cyber-bullying in any complaints mechanism,” she said.

The expert group’s chair Isolde Goggin said the group had been “very cognisant” of potential practical issues to be overcome, particularly the potential volume of complaints that could be submitted.

Its recommendations on the structure and operation of the individual complaints mechanism include:

  • It should be structurally separate from the systemic regulatory functions of Coimisiún na Meán,
  • Coimisiún na Meán should be enabled to handle complaints relating to non-offence-specific categories of harmful online content, as defined in the OSMR Bill,
  • Coimisiún na Meán should be able to triage and refer complaints to certain other bodies, such as an Garda Síochána, and
  • Access to the complaints mechanism should be available (apart from in exceptional circumstances) to those complainants who had first exhausted the complaints process operated by the designated online service concerned.
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