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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Feb 2022

Vol. 283 No. 1

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Dlí ceannródaíoch is ea é an Bille um Rialáil Sabháilteachta ar Líne agus na Meán, 2022 agus tá áthas orm é a chur faoi bhráid an Tí.

The main aim of this legislation is to jump-start modernisation of Ireland's approach to the regulation of content, both for traditional editorial media and the landscape of newer online services fuelled by user-generated content.

This is driven by changes in the way we consume media and the growth of the online world. Streaming services are now a key feature of everyday life. They are on our phones, laptops and televisions. However, regulation of these editorially controlled services has not kept pace with the regulation of broadcasting services. This Bill will change that and ensure that streaming services are subject to up-to-date rules.

While the fact the Internet is a key part of our lives has become increasingly apparent, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought sharp focus to this reality. From working from home to schooling from home, the Internet has enabled us to weather this pandemic in ways that have surprised us all. While the Internet has had a broadly positive impact, there are risks, however, especially to children. Some of these risks are online extensions of existing problems, such as bullying. Others represent new challenges in our digital age, such as image-based abuse. While we have updated our criminal law for the online age, there has not yet been a way to hold online services to account. These are key matters this Bill will begin to tackle for the first time. As such, the Bill's scope is ambitious and includes updates to the regulation of broadcasting services, including radio, television and streaming services. It also provides for the creation of a new regulatory framework for online safety to tackle the availability of the most serious forms of harmful online content. This will be done by providing for risk-based regulation of services that facilitate access to user-generated content. In doing this, the Bill also provides for the implementation of the revised audiovisual media services directive into Irish law.

The foundations for achieving this ambition are those elements of the Bill that provide for the creation of a new regulatory body, coimisiún na meán, the media commission, which will implement and enforce these new and updated rules. In order to do so, an coimisiún will have a robust and modern suite of regulatory functions and powers and, in line with EU law and best practice, will be wholly independent in its exercise of those functions and powers. Regulatory independence is key to effective regulation, especially for content regulation, where fundamental rights are so important. In some parts of Europe, this independence is being eroded. It is vital that Ireland leads on this issue.

The powers of an coimisiún include the power to fund its operations by levying the services it regulates; to create legally binding regulatory codes; to gather information and appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations; and to seek the imposition of sanctions for failures of compliance, including financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of turnover, whichever is higher. In the most serious cases, an coimisiún may seek criminal prosecution of senior executives of non-compliant services and seek court orders to block access to a service in Ireland. In respect of broadcasters, an coimisiún will retain the power to revoke broadcasting contracts for serious breaches.

An coimisiún will also take over the current functions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. The staff of the BAI, approximately 40 people, will transfer to an coimisiún. I envisage that an coimisiún will need to scale quickly up to a staffing level of at least 160 and in the longer term may require staffing of up to 300. The Government has approved the establishment of an coimisiún on an administrative basis, including recruitment of key personnel, prior to the enactment of this Bill. Work on this is ongoing between my officials, the Public Appointments Service and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

While the functions of an coimisiún primarily relate to the regulation of services, it will also have wider roles relating to the protection of children, research, education, media literacy, and journalistic and creative supports. In carrying out these roles, an coimisiún will support and promote an open, trusted and pluralistic media and online environment. There is a widespread problem with the availability of harmful and criminal content on widely used online services. It is clear that self-regulation in online safety is not working and that oversight and accountability is required. As regards online safety, the Bill requires an coimisiún to regulate video-sharing platform services in line with the directive. In addition, the Bill provides an coimisiún with the power to designate further online services for regulation from a pool of relevant online services.

In this context, an online service is relevant if it facilitates access to user-generated content. This covers a very wide range of services, including social media services, many gaming services and online messaging and storage services. In order to designate an online service, an coimisiún is required to conduct a risk assessment of the service, including regarding the prevalence of harmful online content available through the service and the nature and scale of the service. This approach will enable an coimisiún to direct its energies to the areas where they are most needed.

Once an online service is designated, an coimisiún can require it to comply with binding online safety codes. These codes can require online services to adapt their systems and processes in three key areas which are rules for content moderation and complaints handling; rules regarding the design of the service and how and why it displays certain content to users; and rules about advertising.

With regard to video-sharing platform services, an coimisiún is required to apply the provisions of the directive to those services through these codes. The main aim of the online safety codes is to tackle and progressively reduce the availability of harmful online content on designated online services. In this regard, the Bill clearly defines harmful online content. Online content is harmful where it either relates to one of 40 criminal offences listed in the Bill, or is cyberbullying, the promotion or encouragement of eating disorders, self-harm or suicide, or makes available knowledge of methods of self-harm or suicide.

The schedule of criminal offences includes the offences under Coco's Law, or the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020, with regard to image-based abuse, abusive communications and harassment. For harmful online content which is not criminal in nature, a risk test must be met for it to be considered harmful. This includes whether the online content gives rise to any risk to a person's life or a reasonably-foreseeable risk to a person's mental or physical health. The Bill also provides for a mechanism for future categories of harmful online content, both criminal and non-criminal, to be added to this list, subject to Oireachtas oversight.

The Bill also requires an coimisiún to create a super-complaints scheme, under which nominated bodies such as expert NGOs can formally notify an coimisiún of a range of online safety issues. In addition, the Bill empowers an coimisiún to audit the handling of complaints by designated online services.

In summary, the online safety elements of this Bill will ensure that an individual person will be exposed to far less harmful online content and that online services will be required by law to respond to and robustly deal with complaints when they are made. In this regard, an coimisiún will have significant powers of compliance and sanction to hold these services to account.

As the Members will be aware, I have established an expert group to examine providing for an individual complaints mechanism in the Bill. The role of the expert group is to examine whether it is practicable to do this and, if so, how it may be done. The group has 90 days from the date of its first meeting, which was on 31 January 2022, to examine this matter and to report back to me with its recommendations. Following this, I will then consider tabling an amendment as the Bill passes through the Oireachtas. If an individual complaints mechanism can be provided for, I would like to ensure that it is. In this regard, any proposals that I bring forward must be workable and legally robust.

In terms of the regulation of broadcasting and streaming services, this will for the most part be done through media codes and rules. Media codes are mostly about the content of programming, including rules for programme standards and advertising. Media rules, on the other hand, are mostly about the presentation and structure of the service, including rules regarding the time given to advertising, accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities and quotas for European works. In order to ensure the uninterrupted regulation of broadcasters, provision is made for the existing broadcasting codes and rules to be carried over and become media codes and rules.

The Bill also provides for the mandatory registration of streaming services to ensure that, in line with the directive, all streaming services established in Ireland are subject to appropriate regulation. Broadcasters will remain regulated on a contractual basis. The Bill also provides for the transposition of an optional provision in the directive to empower an coimisiún to levy broadcasters and streaming services, including those established elsewhere in the EU, in respect of any revenues that they may make in Ireland in order to fund the production of European works, including Irish-produced works.

Provision is made so that the money collected could be dispersed by an coimisiún through a content production scheme.

The Bill does not set the amounts of any such levy as this would be inflexible but enables an coimisiún to design and implement a levy having regard to relevant economic factors. There are potential risks and benefits to a levy, including for consumers, and it is intended that an coimisiún would thoroughly examine these matters before these provisions are commenced.

Turning to a more detailed overview of the provisions of the Bill, it is first important to note that it amends the Broadcasting Act 2009.

Part 1 addresses preliminary and general matters.

Part 2 amends the 2009 Act to insert and amend a number of definitions, including key definitions such as the definition of a "relevant online service". Furthermore, sections 4 and 5 under this part provide for the relevant jurisdiction rules from the directive.

Part 3 amends Part 2 of the 2009 Act to provide for the establishment of coimisiún na meán. Key provisions under this part include provision for the independence of an coimisiún, the appointment of commissioners, including a chairperson, an coimisiún to impose levies on regulated services - not including community broadcasters - to fund its operations, an coimisiún to report on its operations and the accountability of the chairperson to the Committee of Public Accounts and the chairperson and other commissioners to relevant Oireachtas committees.

Part 3 also provides for the general powers and functions of an coimisiún. It is important to note that this provision does not contain every power and function to be exercised by an coimisiún but does set out, at a high-level, certain powers and functions that an coimisiún shall exercise and matters that it shall take into account when exercising its powers. This includes upholding Ireland's democratic values, protecting the interests of the public, in particular children, ensuring the diverse needs of the people of this island are served by our media, stimulating content production, particularly in respect of the Irish language and climate matters and sustaining independent and impartial journalism. In particular, an coimisiún is provided with a strong education and research role.

Part 4 provides for matters related to the registration of providers of streaming services through the insertion of a new Part 3A into the 2009 Act.

Part 5 concerns the duties, codes and rules applicable to radio and television broadcasters and streaming services and provides for these through the insertion of a new part 3B into the 2009 Act. Chapter 2 of this new Part concerns duties, including in relation to privacy, news and current affairs and advertising. Chapters 3 and 5 of this new part concern media codes and rules. Chapter 3 of this Part also provides that existing broadcasting codes and rules made by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, such as access rules, will continue in force following the enactment of the Bill.

Part 6 amends Part 4 of the 2009 Act and primarily concerns changes to take into account the establishment of an coimisiún and the statutory regulation of streaming services in respect of redress mechanisms.

Part 9 amends Part 7 of the 2009 Act to take into account the establishment of an coimisiún in regard to public service broadcasting, allow for the part-funding of the broadcasting functions of an coimisiún from television licence receipts, provide for changes to the calculation of total advertising time for broadcasters and insert a new chapter 7 regarding the availability and prominence of public service programmes and services.

Part 11 inserts a new Part 8A into the 2009 Act concerning online safety regulation. Chapter 1 of this new part concerns the definitions of harmful online content and age-inappropriate online content, which I have already detailed. Chapter 2 concerns the process for designating relevant online services for regulation. Chapter 3 concerns the making of online safety codes, the matters which they can address and matters which need to be taken into account when the codes are being drawn up, including the protection of children, fundamental rights, the nature and scale of online services and the impact of automated decision-making or algorithms. Chapter 4 concerns the making of online safety guidance materials and advisory notices. Chapter 5 concerns an obligation on an coimisiún to establish a super-complaints scheme for nominated bodies, and a number of other matters. Part 11 also inserts a new Schedule 3 into the 2009 Act containing the list of offence specific categories of harmful online content.

Part 12 inserts a new Part 8B into the 2009 Act concerning investigations and sanctions. Chapter 2 and of this new Part provides an coimisiún with the power to appoint authorised officers and concerns the procedure for investigations by those officers and decisions by an coimisiún following investigations. Chapter 4 concerns the imposition of administrative financial sanctions. Chapter 5 of this new Part provides an coimisiún with the power to issue notices to end a contravention and provides for secondary criminal liability for senior executives linked to these. Chapter 6 provides an coimisiún with the power to seek court orders to block access to non-compliant online services in Ireland. Chapter 7 provides an coimisiún with the power to issue content limitation notices in respect of individual items of harmful online content. Chapter 8 provides for three categories of summary offences under the Bill and provides an coimisiún with the power to prosecute these offences. This part also inserts a new Schedule 4 into the 2009 Act concerning oral hearings.

Parts 7, 8, 10, 13, 15 and 17 amend various Parts of the 2009 Act and other relevant Acts to take into account the dissolution of the BAI and the establishment of an coimisiún.

Part 14 inserts a new Part 10A in the 2009 Act concerning European works. This Part provides for the requirements of the directive for European works quotas and prominence and provides an coimisiún with the power to introduce a European works levy and European works scheme.

Lastly, Part 16 provides for transitional matters.

As can be seen, given its subject matter, this Bill is necessarily complex and far-reaching. It deals with a wide range of important issues from modernising media regulation to introducing, for the first time, online safety regulation to tackle the availability of serious forms of harmful online content.

I would like to conclude by acknowledging the work undertaken by the members of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media on the general scheme of the Bill as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process. The report of the committee demonstrated the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny to the democratic process. I was pleased to address a significant number of the recommendations made by the joint committee through the Bill. As we now progress through the next phase of parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, I look forward to the Senators' contributions.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire. She deserves a good deoch uisce after that wonderful presentation to us. I deliberately left her an extra few minutes because I think all of us here in the Chamber and those of us listening in or watching realise how important this legislation is. It will be a very hard act for Senator Martin to follow his sister. The next eight minutes are his.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh an Bille seo. The legislation proposed must be one of the most complex and hugely important to come to the Houses. Today marks a milestone in its progress.. We are now another step closer to finalising this groundbreaking legislation.

The full establishment of Coimisiún na Meán, setting up a new regulatory body that will oversee a more streamlined and effective regulation of audiovisual media content, in addition to the important appointment of the online safety commissioner, will bring an end to the era of self-regulation of the social media giants that have established headquarters in Ireland under our jurisdiction.

The eyes of Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world are upon us as legislators. There is much at stake and the Minister and her officials must be commended on the prioritised emphasis she and they have placed on drafting a Bill that is so far-reaching in its scale and ambition. The Government of this day ought to be commended too on supporting the need for this initiative.

Undoubtedly, once enacted, the Bill will be very impactful. I welcome the extent of the pre-legislative scrutiny that colleagues undertook at the Oireachtas committee. I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the majority of their recommendations within the report. It is a good example of the vital work Members of the Oireachtas do; often away from the glare of publicity. They go through legislation word for word, line by line. At times, I regret that it can be used as a box-ticking exercise but one cannot say that in respect of this Bill, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 and many others.

I hope in the months and years to come we will fully value the role of pre-legislative scrutiny. I acknowledge some areas are still under consideration by the Minister, in particular the establishment of the working group on an individual complaints mechanism. Public confidence and trust, which are hugely lacking in the current self-regulatory framework will be essential within this consideration. Many concerned stakeholders are waiting for years, more than a decade. I am delighted the Minister, the Department and the Government are moving ahead, as they are today.

The technical and operational challenges to individual complaints should be acknowledged. A potential reach of more than 450 million people across Europe is a vast user base. It is difficult to comprehend how the Irish regulator might handle such a structure and potential workload, but if there is a way to allow for a process whereby individual complaints can be reviewed, then it would be prudent of the Minister to take time for further analysis of this issue. I welcome her decision to expedite the work of the group to just 90 days. I acknowledge that any solutions presented must be legally robust. I look forward to hearing the recommendations in the coming weeks.

Our children and their safety are the driving force and momentum for all of us when considering the Bill. Evidence, both data-driven and anecdotal, tell us that children are at daily risk of exposure to many types of harmful online material, from criminal harms to other harms such as bullying, harassment, exploitation and content that promotes suicide or eating disorders. The tech companies make vast sums of money through their products and parents cannot be expected to be singlehandedly responsible and accountable for supervising their children at all times from accessing these platforms whose tentacles reach into almost every aspect of our everyday lives.

I welcome the online safety code framework established by the coimisiún. It will ensure that services take appropriate systemic measures to reduce the availability of harmful online content, including cyberbullying. At long last, the tech companies will be held to tangible account. The online services will be forced to respond to and robustly deal with complaints when they are made.

I recognise that both society and business welcome the important development of this Bill. Technology companies, many of whom are established in Ireland and have had great positive impact on our lives and have made a contribution to the economy, and employ thousands, will also play their part in putting the legislation into action in its implementation or, if they do not, face unprecedented, tough sanctions from the coimisiún.

It should be acknowledged that there is a widespread problem with the availability of illegal and harmful content on widely used online services and it is clear that self-regulation is not working. Today heralds the start of the journey to end the era of self-regulation. The days of self-regulation are numbered. They have failed us and our children.

I welcome the Minister's work on the Bill in transposing the audiovisual media service directive, which places the focus of media regulation on both broadcasters and streaming services. How audiences consume content at home and on mobile devices has changed dramatically. I welcome this legislation which moves to adopt structures to recognise the need for expanded oversight.

As a firm believer in the power of democracy, disinformation is one of the defining issues of our time. The spread and amplification of disinformation by social media in global politics is creating a demand for alternative narratives. The influence of fake news has become an acute threat to democratic societies. Why has the Bill not addressed this key issue? Does the Minister have a process in place to tackle this once the online safety commissioner is in situ? The impact of this legislation is to be felt right across the spectrum of society which interacts so frequently with audiovisual content and social media. It is recognised that further legislation will be required in order to keep pace with the changing landscape of media and technology, but it is vitally important for us to get the foundation right. The development of this Bill has, understandably, been complex and challenging. It is evident from the physical weight of the Bill that it is a mammoth project. It contains much detail. It should be recognised that Ireland is paving the way for the rest of the world. The Bill will benefit from its journey through both Houses of the Oireachtas. I look forward to actively partaking in the journey in the Upper House. The days of self-regulation are numbered and I unequivocally welcome that.

I thank Senator Martin. That was not a bad follow-up act after the Minister.

The Minister is very welcome to the Chamber. The Bill has been in the works for some time and will bring about drastic change for people and companies working in broadcasting and streaming. It will affect everyone in the country in some way. It is a large Bill and at times a technical one, but its main effects are laid out in an accessible manner. It will result in the replacement of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the new Coimisiún na Meán, whose remit will extend beyond that of the BAI into the realm of audiovisual on-demand media services or streaming to the layman, and also into social media, which the Bill calls a relevant online service for the time being.

I am going to stick to some of the terms that everybody knows. This Bill comes about because of a debate that has happened in the western hemisphere in recent years. It was largely kick-started in 2016 by the cultural fallout from Brexit and the presidential election in the United States, the crux of which was that people behaved poorly online and what was to be done about it. This primarily is a moral issue; someone with no love of neighbour does not care what harm they bring to others, but since we cannot legislate that everyone be moral, then here we are.

I will take some aspects of the Bill in order of appearance. Section 35, which amends section 123 of the principal Act, allows the commission to receive funding from the television licence fee, joining RTÉ and TG4 as the recipients of such. I do not know how TG4 feels about sharing the pie, but RTÉ has spent recent years having a good moan about how the €200 million a year that gets spent from the fee is simply not enough. It has continually held out the begging bowl to successive Governments. Most companies, families and individuals might have to look at costs and expenses and engage in a bit of budgeting to make ends meet when times are tough, but then for most companies, it is not illegal to not pay for the service that you did not ask for and do not use. There was some talk of a broadcasting levy which would be applied to every household, rather than only those with a television. Let us all be glad that was not the route taken. Instead, we are going to put a levy on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and Disney Plus - the companies that make the content that people want to pay for - and radio stations and social media companies, which they will pay to the commission for the privilege of being regulated in the hope that some money will be put in their coffers.

Part 2 of the Bill is where things get more worrying than ridiculous. It relates to online safety. Before I talk about harmful online content, I want to mention section 139D, which relates to age-inappropriate online content. I am so glad that it is in the Bill. Very few parents have any idea of what children see online. Children are given a phone, sometimes as young as six or seven, and they are left alone with it day and night with unrestricted Internet access. That is not okay.

I am so sick and tired of the blind eye being turned when it comes to the harm this is doing to the children the length and breadth of this country. From constant exposure to cyberbullying, to unrealistic body imagery for young girls leading to low self-esteem and eating disorders, to one-click access to hard-core pornography which desensitises, to the oversexualisation of young people, to direct messages from anonymous accounts on TikTok, Instagram and Discord, asking them for photos. The list goes on and on. Parents are not doing their job at protecting their children from the Internet. That is a fact. This will not be a very popular statement, because we do not like to criticise parents, but this is too important, and we must call it out. That, of course, is the role of the parent; to raise, nurture and protect their child. It is less so the relationship between the Government and its citizens and yet, that is what the Government is seeking to do with this Bill. It is to make the media commission the saviour of grown adults nationwide by saving them from offence.

Alongside the serious issues of self-harm, suicide and eating disorders is the definition of "harmful online content" as online content which "humiliates another person". Under this Bill, if someone tweets something which I feel humiliates me, I can ask Twitter to take it down. If it does not do so, I can go to the media commission, tell the commission that it is negatively impacting my mental health and the commission will order it to be taken down. This is the teacher making sure that the kids play nice in the yard, scaled up to the entire online presence of everyone in the country.

Bullying is a different story. It carries with it the idea of behaviour that is targeted and repeated. There is no such provision in this Bill. There can be a once-off occasion and, just like that, this organ of the State will swoop in and make sure that no one’s feelings ever get hurt. The role of the State is to protect our rights, not our feelings. We are in the very early Stages of this Bill. I welcome the provisions of this Bill, particularly those that protect our children. However, I also have serious concerns on the possible overreach of the commission in restricting freedom of speech online. I look forward to working with the proposers on Committee Stage, when I will table amendments to ensure the continued existence of freedom of speech in this country.

The Minister is very welcome and all the more so because she is bringing forward one of the most far-reaching and significant pieces of legislation ever seen in these Houses. It is much needed for the regulation of media in this modern age. As a member of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, I was delighted over the last year to have been working on that pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Bill, along with my colleagues, Senator Malcolm Byrne, and the Chair, Deputy Niamh Smyth. We addressed the dozens of witnesses from many spheres of society that came before us, from media experts, to health experts, to young students who had been subjected to vile sexual abuse and sexual exploitation online.

Now, we have a Bill to deal with the robust regulatory framework. That is so welcome and I commend the Minister. We now see the benefits of having a Minister with responsibility for the media, as well as of having a Department with responsibility for the media, in bringing forward legislation that is required. However, here is the rub, which is bit like when Governments in the past took on the big, vested interests in the world, such as the tobacco industry. We are facing, just like we did with tobacco in the past, tech giants which make profits that would make one's eyes water. Facebook’s profits are €40 billion. The ball is very much in these companies' court. They are looking at this Bill very carefully, as we have seen from their appearance before us at the media committee. The warnings by Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, at the weekend, when she spoke on RTÉ, were that the world is depending on Ireland for a level of robustness that keeps people safe. This is stark.

Equally stark is her warning about what an online safety commissioner will need in terms of staff and expertise. She said that it would need at least 20 algorithm experts with deep product expertise, who understand how small choices make parts of the system interact with each other. If we do not have these experts, then we do not have a chance of holding these systems accountable. Here is the problem. Remember that there is no undergraduate course from which we can obtain these experts. They exist and are trained only by the very tech giants that we are seeking to regulate. In effect, we will have to break into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and steal a couple of Oompa Loompas so that we can get the magic formula and take these guys on at their own game. If we do not, we will get outflanked at every turn. Just like Augustus Gloop, we will be stuck in the pipe, only ours will be a huge, high-speed fibre cable one.

I am very positive about this Bill. More so, I have been heartened by all those who came before us and spoke to us at the committee. Not all of the voices were those that predicted doom and gloom. Many young people and students spoke to us about the dangers of over-regulation. They said that a process of education and support is needed in our education system. They nearly half-scolded us. They said that teachers and parents need to understand the world as it is, as opposed to the world in which we grew up. This should not be an over-regulated world.

We also had students before the committee. One in particular case, Alicia O’Sullivan, the law student from UCC, had her image used on a fake Instagram account. Several of the posts were nude images of girls, without their faces visible. The account’s creators falsely purported that these images were of Alicia. One of the most frustrating things was her interaction with An Garda Síochána when she reported it. Gardaí were kind of looking at her as if to say, “What are you doing here?” and they were asking her about what kinds of images she posted herself. They did not have the expertise. They were not trained in this whole area and sphere to be able to deal with her complaint properly. Hence the need for the individual complaints mechanism in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, so that we have a proper area whereby complaints can be dealt with.

On the issue of health - and this is such a broad-ranging Bill - we had the Irish Heart Foundation before the committee. Its representatives described as worrying the absence of a ban on junk food advertisements aimed at children. Professor Conor O’Mahony, the special rapporteur on child protection, spoke of the dangers of targeted gambling advertisements, which is quite frankly one of the biggest threats in our society today. They are one of the biggest advertisers in the online world. Trust me, they have their own batch of Oompa Loompas working in the back offices who are targeting susceptible people and are creating case files on their big clients and big gamblers so that they can keep them hooked. These people have unlimited resources to make sure that they are using the online world for financial gain.

We met with Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram at our hearings. They were terse exchanges. They did not come skipping to the table to meet us. We subsequently met with representatives from Facebook privately online to discuss community standards. We came away even more despairing after that, given our differences in interpretation of what was regarded as acceptable content, versus what was not. Hence, it reinforced my backing for, and my belief in, the need for regulation, as well as for a complaints mechanism. Only 3% to 5% of hate speech on Facebook is picked up through its artificial intelligence filters, and only 1% of violent inciting content. What was most worrying about comments by Frances Haugen, who will be before the media committee tomorrow, is her claim that Facebook now rewards hate content. It will target and promote content that elicits reaction when people are thrashing each other, when they are fighting back and forth, when they are getting that engagement and when people are pressing "like". That is very depressing.

This Bill obviously has broader implications for the total world of media, because it will dissolve the existing regulator and will provide the commission with the powers and functions to an appropriate apply and enforce review framework. The issue of the content levy, of which the Minister spoke, under section 157 has, as the Minister says, pros and cons. However, ensuring that we have a fund for original Irish content is essential, as we discussed at the committee. I would echo the comments of Screen Producers Ireland which is looking at a definitive start date for that content levy. We have been discussing this for a very long time. We need to see progress and a date for that.

We also had the traditional media providers before us, because their future is under threat.

Content from newsrooms is being used for free online. Just as Johannes Gutenberg put the monks out of business in 1440 when he invented the printing press, I am not trying to hold back the tide. I worked in the print industry for 20 years and I can see that the game is changing. The press needs to try to make people buy newspapers again, but we need to address the future of the media. Hence, we need the report of the Future of Media Commission so that we can have that debate in tandem with this Bill. They have a complementary aspect.

I wish the Minister well and look forward to the Bill progressing to Committee Stage. Today is a major step, on which I commend the Minister. It is important for the future of the media.

I offer my apologies on behalf of Senator Carrigy. Over the past year and a half, he has worked hard on the committee with colleagues. Unfortunately, he cannot make it today. I am happy to fill in for him because this is an issue in which I have taken a personal interest for the past 18 months in terms of big tech and the algorithms that are being used. I watched Ms Frances Haugen's testimony to the US Congress, the European Parliament and the House of Commons. Given how big tech has been so beneficial, Ms Haugen going around the world and giving personal testimony to parliaments shows how important this matter is.

I wish to set out the context for why we are introducing legislation like this. It has to do with the US and section 230 of its Communications Decency Act of 1996. It was one of the world's first Internet Acts and came about to provide news websites that had comment sections with immunity against libellous comments. It made sense at the time because we were in a new era and did not know what it was. Now, big tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube hide behind that section because they can define themselves as platforms as opposed to publishers. When they are not treated as publishers, they are not responsible for the content - much of the time, it is hateful content - that is posted on their sites. The loophole they use is to say that they are only hosting the content and are not responsible for it. The minute that social media and big tech companies become responsible for the content on their platforms, the sooner they will take greater care towards it.

We have needed to introduce legislation like this because they have failed to self-regulate regardless of all the times they have said they are doing this or that. It would not make sense for them to self-regulate because doing so would fundamentally alter their business model. Like any business, their business model is to try to make a profit. Why on Earth would Mark Zuckerberg or other people in big tech turn around and alter their algorithms to make them safer for people and, in the process, lose money? It will not happen. That is why it is so important for governments to step in and legislate. That is what the Irish Government is doing today and what the EU is doing with the Digital Services Act. In the US, trying to repeal section 230 was the one thing that the former President, Donald Trump, and Democrats could agree on. There are moves in the US Congress to do that now. It would be a decent approach. That is the context for where we find ourselves today.

Something else that we have to understand and acknowledge is that big tech moves at lightning speed and is changing every week. It is difficult for the government in any democracy to try to keep pace with that. We are trying to do so with this Bill, but it is important that we build mechanisms into the legislation so that we can review it every year. There is no point in just passing it, putting it on the Statute Book and forgetting about it for four or five years. Since big tech is an ever-evolving system, it will have to be monitored rigorously and continuously. As my colleague, Senator Cassells, said when referencing Ms Haugen on RTÉ over the weekend, we must have people in the commission who are experts in algorithms and in how big tech works. We need to pursue big tech employees to work for us and help us shine a light on what these companies are doing. The commission needs the highest quality personnel. Otherwise, I fear that it will not be as successful as it could be.

I will turn to a few other aspects. I welcome the Minister's comments on an individual complaints mechanism and that she will revert to us 90 days after 31 January. I understand why some people may baulk at the concept of an individual complaints mechanism. For example, if I fell out with Senator Warfield or Senator Keogan, anyone could report a comment on this and that. The mechanism will not work if it is being abused by people who are using it just because they do not like what so and so said. However, it allows for action to be taken where someone has clear evidence of sustained harassment or abuse over a distinct period. At the moment, what can an individual who is being harangued, abused or harassed online do? He or she can go to the Garda or take the offenders through a costly, time-consuming and laborious legal process. However, if someone is able to make a direct complaint to the commission about an individual who is clearly targeting a certain section of society or so on, then that individual can be blocked from a platform or sanctions of some sort can be applied. Importantly, this would provide people with reassurance that there is an avenue to make such complaints and that they would be backed up in doing so.

We have discussed misinformation. Last week, I read a good article in The Economist about big tech and misinformation. It had a really good cartoon depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are traditionally Famine, Death, War and Conquest. Three of those are matters that previous societies had to contend it, but perhaps the 21st century has to contend with a fifth horseman, namely, misinformation. Misinformation is being used around the world to try to destabilise economies and democracies and undermine vaccines and Covid responses. It is being allowed to run amok online. This was shown a couple of years ago when Facebook's algorithms took people down rabbit holes. If people searched for a certain thing, it would produce another level of that content and then another level, and they would go further and further down the rabbit hole. There is an excellent podcast from The New York Times called "Rabbit Hole". It details exactly how these algorithms worked. After the lid was blown on the story, Facebook all of a sudden said it needed to do something about it. This is why we cannot trust big tech companies whatsoever.

I went off on a slight tangent there, so I will return to my point on misinformation. The Department of Education and the commission could examine a good approach that Finland has been taking since 2014. That year, Finland came under a large cyberattack from Russia over perceived grievances. As a result, Finland's department of education introduced misinformation classes in which it showed primary school children what online misinformation was, how to identify it and how to react to it. If we did something like that to prepare Irish children for the online world, which is different than when some of us were younger, it would go a long way.

The reason we must introduce this legislation is because it would be insane for us to rely on big tech companies to regulate themselves. It will never happen. They have tried to do it. Actually, to be honest, I do not really think that they have tried to do it. They have only tried after the lid was blown on some of their practices. They then give mealy-mouthed responses about what they are trying to do. Until the business model of big tech changes – the companies will never change it themselves – governments will have to step in and regulate. This Bill will be the first such legislation to be introduced and will be followed by other democracies around the world.

It is important that we review the legislation every year. If we do not, we will not be able to keep up with the lightning speed of big tech.

Senator Cassells will shortly take over for me in the Chair. I look forward to making my own presentation. I have been impressed by everything that has been said so far.

I welcome the Minister to the House. It is a source of significant frustration that she has yet to publish the Future of Media Commission's report. The co-operation and synergy between the commission and the new regulator were core issues for the joint committee when debating this Bill. Here we are discussing the dissolution of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, yet the Parliament does not have to hand a report from the commission, which was set up by the Government at a cost to taxpayers in the State of €400,000.

I asked RTÉ representatives when they were before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media recently how they felt. They said they were beyond frustrated that the report has not been published yet. The Press Ombudsman was before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Petitions, of which I am a member, and he expressed his concern that it had not been published yet. The committee pre-legislative scrutiny report noted the notable overlap between the Future of Media Commission and the new regulator. I urge the Minister to release the report to tell us what the Government's plan is for the future of media in this country.

I will turn to the individual complaints mechanism. The Internet brings risk. This Bill has identified the loss of personal data, exposure to harmful content, cyberbullying, negative effects on health and mental health, online grooming and extortion. There is a scheme in the Bill for nominated bodies that will be able to notify the media commission about harmful content and non-compliance with the online safety codes. However, that does not go far enough. The Bill should specifically provide for an individual complaints mechanism to ensure citizens have access to an effective remedy. When someone's rights are not respected by online providers, and that person has exhausted all appropriate channels with an online platform, the State should then have a mechanism in place to allow an effective remedy for the individual. I appreciate the Minister has established an expert group to consider the issue. It will report to her before 90 days at this point, but this work should have been completed in parallel with the pre-legislative scrutiny process.

I hope the Bill will not leave the Seanad before we get access to the advice from the expert group. It is important for Senators to be able to consider the Bill with the advice from that expert group to hand. I hope the Bill will not go to the Dáil, be amended there and then return to this House. While I welcome the piece about nominated bodies, I am not convinced such organisations, for example, NGOs, have the time or resources to do this type of work. Having super-complainants is a useful provision, and one I understand social media companies have in place, but it is no harm to put that on a legislative footing.

I will refer briefly to public service programming and prominence. It is something I brought up at the committee at numerous points. The prominence of our public service broadcasters and public service media must be safeguarded in law. This is particularly important when it comes to the Irish language. We used to be able to turn on the television and the public service broadcaster would be right there. It now takes multiple steps to find public service content. It is important we maintain prime billing on viewing menus, for example, so the regulator can step in and ensure public service content is easy to find. As I said, there are multiple steps a viewer has to take to find public service content now, whether that is through a Sky box and so on. I do not want a situation where public service broadcasters are being drowned out.

The new media commission will have the power to impose financial sanctions on broadcasting services and designated online services. I am mindful when I read these sanctions that another commissioner, the Data Protection Commissioner, has come in for international criticism for being too soft on big tech companies such as Facebook and Google. Ms Frances Haugen said that Ireland faces a conflict of interest when regulating these companies. The Government needs to get tough and this media commission needs to be tough on tech companies. I am also concerned that the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Robert Troy, has given confidentiality to Facebook and other tech companies when they meet that Department.

I would like to raise the issue of the ban on advertising to children. I remember the Connemara film-maker, Bob Quinn, always fought against advertisements during children's programming when he was on the RTÉ authority. In 1970, he called for a complete ban on all advertising directed at children. Recommendation 24 from the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny report is a ban on advertising to children online, including, at the very minimum, advertising of junk foods, alcohol, foods high in fat, salt or sugar, and gambling. There should be an online safety code that addresses this issue. I believe an explicit reference is required that makes it clear from the outset this will be included in the work of the new regulator because it is in public health interest of children. The same applies to the content levy. The media regulator will have the ability to introduce the levy but there is no date for that. Does the Minister believe it will happen if we leave it and do not make explicit reference to its introduction at the start of the Bill?

My last point relates to public interest research based on the data provided by regulated platforms. Ms Frances Haugen was a product manager researching misinformation on Facebook's civil integrity team. She will be before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media tomorrow. She disclosed internal documents showing Facebook's internal research teams had evidence of harmful content. Facebook did not share those findings with the public nor did it give external researchers access to data to confirm their findings. We need transparent data access. Researchers can only access what Facebook wants them to see. Researchers can see patterns on Twitter because its data is public, but Facebook and YouTube do not readily share data with researchers and, therefore, there is a void in research, which is the first step in understanding what is going on under the lid of these platforms. Recommendation 23 from the committee was that provision be made in legislation to enable public interest research based on data provided by regulated platforms. Is the Minister satisfied the Bill provides for data to be supplied to independent researchers and academics? I do not think it does.

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I welcome the Bill and when it is enacted, its impact will be groundbreaking. It is a long overdue development that recognises the multiple media forms that now exist in our lives. It is important to say the establishment of the new media commission and the three commissioners will be vital in forcing our regulatory system to deal with the enormous challenges posed by online activity and recognising, as many others have said, that for many people on-demand audiovisual services now overtake the main broadcast media in how they consume broadcast content.

Before I go into the detail of the Bill, it is important to acknowledge the enormous work undertaken by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. I am not a member of that committee - I have sat in on its meetings a number of times - but I am certainly aware of the extensive number of hearings and the very detailed report and recommendations issued by it. While some of the committee's recommendations were incorporated into the Bill before us, a number of them were not. I am also conscious of the commitments to address some of the outstanding concerns, such as the report that has been commissioned into the individual complaints mechanism. There are also concerns with regard to how much detail in the Bill relates to the online safety commissioner. These are not peripheral but core issues. There is a real question about the timing of this Bill coming before the House when these fundamental issues have not yet been fully addressed. Like others, I would like these issues to be fully addressed and brought back to the House before this Bill is passed. I hope it is not rushed through this House and into the Dáil before those issues are fully resolved.

Others have spoken about the issue of the absence of the individual complaints mechanism.

To me there is a real issue about the point of this Bill if it cannot facilitate meaningful and direct recourse for those affected by online safety issues. We have heard from groups like the Children’s Rights Alliance, CyberSafeKids and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC, all having concerns that failure to have an individual complaints mechanism will perpetuate the harm online and, in particular, will leave children and other vulnerable persons exposed and unprotected by this Bill. While I recognise that there is a provision for expert groups and NGOs to report, unless there is a direct recourse for individuals then this Bill will be failing in what it sets out to do, namely provide regulation and support to those affected by harmful online activity.

The following point is important to me. While regulation and sanction of harmful online content is the most groundbreaking element of this Bill, when I look at the detail there is also a lack of ambition in certain elements of it. Why has the Government shied away from naming non-criminal, harmful content such as advertising to children of gambling products and of high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar food products? Instead of being brave and hardwiring a Bill on advertising to children of these products, we are told that responsibility for the regulation of advertising of these products lies with their line Departments, namely the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or the Department of Justice. There is an inconsistency at the heart of the Bill because the responsibility for online safety is rightly placed within the media commission; the online safety commissioner will be tasked with regulating content to ensure the online safety of children and adults and when it comes to some of the thorniest and most harmful online exposure, responsibility is sent back to the Departments. To be fair to the Departments they are looking after the commercial interests of food production companies and other enterprises. We can hardly expect a Department other than the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to be a neutral arbiter on these issues, whereas we could expect an online safety commissioner and the media commission to have a strong role in this. It is regrettable that outright bans are not named in this legislation.

The other big issue is the advertising of infant milk formula products. A key point that has been made by the Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland is that this Bill should seek to protect all children and not just those who are old enough to consume digital or analogue advertising. When I say all this, I recognise that there will always be demand for infant formula and mothers have a right to decide what is best for themselves and their families. This is not about stigmatising choices but it is about protecting families from marketing that is purely driven by profit considerations, not by any interest in the advancement of public health. That is why I strongly feel we should have an outright ban on the advertising of infant formula products for children up to the age of 36 months. We know Ireland has been found wanting in comprehensively implementing the World Health Organization international code of marketing breastmilk substitutes and that we have had an ambivalent attitude towards the marketing of breast milk, marketing online and within some Irish hospitals. There is an opportunity to introduce a ban within the legislation, not to commit to something that may be looked at down the road. We also need to introduce a ban on the profiling or tracking of babies or children’s data and anybody who has been pregnant over the last decade will tell you that if you become pregnant after a while your search history will start to throw up all sorts of advertising online.

The online world is only a safer place because of the incredible work of content moderators on various platforms. Unfortunately we do not have any regulation of their work in this Bill. While it could be argued that regulation of their work could be dealt with within health and safety legislation, the performance of content moderators is vital in the self-regulation of platforms in this country. If we do not ensure that we have proper supports in place for self-regulation, that places an enormous pressure on the regulatory infrastructure, namely the media commission. There is a serious need to look at how this Bill relates to content moderators.

I mention the overdue publication of the report of the Future of Media Commission.. There is a growing frustration that we have not seen that. In my role as Labour Party spokesperson on media I talk to local and national media and we need to see that vision from Government. I urge the Minister to press on with that publication.

I welcome the Minister to the House. She can hear the interest in this Bill as it is discussed. For a long time there was a little bit of complacency among some of the major players in the tech industry around the idea that they would always be slightly ahead of Government and regulation and that this was an area of such complexity. I remember being in a situation once when I was told that it is maths and that was used to say these areas are not in the scope of appropriate regulation. We have seen that they are in the scope of appropriate regulation and that they are areas of responsibility for us as national and European legislators.

The online space does not exist separately; it exists in real spaces. From the issues of data centres and where they are located, through to where and how data is processed, it is in the real world and in real jurisdictions and it is subject to real regulation. We have instruments and the skills to do that regulation. We have seen that in the general data protection regulation, GDPR. We have heard about innovation and the regulatory innovation that Europe showed in GDPR was fundamental and incredibly important. There is something we got right about that which I hope we can follow through with in how we treat the likes of the audiovisual and media services directive, the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022, the digital services and the algorithmic legislation when it comes through. We took an approach with GDPR that avoided the twin dangers of a laissez-faire approach of market self-regulation and an authoritarian approach where the state owned all the data. It is neither a matter of commercial nor state ownership. Instead we took up an approach which was rights-based. It was strong, regulatory, ambitious and also fundamentally rights-based. We can do that here again and we need to make sure we do so, while improving the one place that GDPR has fallen down and where Ireland has unfortunately fallen down on GDPR, namely in implementation and enforcement.

In that context I will point to some of my recommendations and concerns, which will seem to go to either direction on this. On the one side we need to be more ambitious in making sure that individuals are able to assert their data rights. There must be an individual complaints mechanism and that will be core to this legislation, to its effectiveness and meaningfulness and to whether it sits legitimately side-by-side in a complementary way with what we did before. There has to be an individual mechanism and in that I would suggest that we probably should not be looking at this on Committee Stage in the Seanad until we have that expert online safety group report back. It was given 90 days from the end of January to report and its brief is to consider: "whether it is practicable to include an individual complaints mechanism in the Bill and, if so, how this may be done".

There has to be an individual complaints mechanism. That was very clear from the committee scrutiny. It is fundamental and I hope the discussion we have on Committee Stage is one on how there has to be such a mechanism. That is important.

There are areas within regulations and codes where we can move ahead and give strong legislative protection that would be better, such as in the area of infant formula. If one knows an issue is a concern, it is always better to have it in the primary legislation. That is the strongest place we can have protection around areas such as infant formula, junk food, alcohol and gambling. These are areas where we can now put proper protections in place in the primary legislation.

In the special space, we also need to have care that harmful practices or what gets defined as harmful is not entirely solely left to the commission and that it would come back to the Oireachtas. What we do not want is that we have things we know are harmful and will not necessarily get captured or might be an overreach that get defined as harmful down the line and that creates inadvertent consequences or, potentially, suppression. The legislation should be as clear as possible.

In that regard, a crucial issue is profiling and microtargeting of children. The Minister will be aware this is recommendation 26 from the Oireachtas committee scrutiny which was very clear on profiling. This issue is on its way. We know it will be part of the Digital Services Act. The European Parliament has voted to ban targeted advertising and profiling under the Act.

I would like if we could engage between now and Committee Stage. This is already in Irish law because Senator Ruane and I, in section 30 of the Data Protection Act 2018, won an amendment which is in the law but the section was never commenced. It explicitly banned, back in 2018, a company or corporate body processing personal data of children "for the purposes of direct marketing ... or micro-targeting". It was not perfectly worded.

We were told it would be refined. However, it was not commenced and has not been refined. I suggest we have a tool there we might need to revisit. The precedent has already been set by the Oireachtas ahead of EU law. This House determined it believed this should be a key concern and should be addressed, back in 2018. I am sure we could do it better than it was worded in 2018, but it is important that mandate is a historical one.

I have concerns in terms of overreach on some of the issues, such as looking at how far warrants go and the kind of information. Authorised officer powers need to be very carefully scrutinised, especially when it comes to interpersonal communication and cloud storage, for example. There are a few gaps, which we will come to on Committee Stage. If information is taken from somebody, he or she should be entitled to have a copy of what is taken. I am a little concerned that we need some more checks and balances around the authorised officer powers with regard to that.

One of the very exciting things about the audiovisual and media services directive is the exception culturelle. Senator McGahon spoke about the beginning being the US Communications Decency Act 1996. Actually, 1993 and the exception culturelle are the fundamental origins of the AVMS directive. The exception culturelle was the idea that culture is not solely commercial but that there is a right to participation in culture and diverse representation.

Many of the measures in the Bill around the levies and supporting public service broadcasting are not simply about market share for Europe. They are around the idea of the right to cultural expression and participation for all citizens, including those with a disability, those for whom Irish Sign Language may be their main language and regional and rural communities. I hope that we can be very ambitious in that section and reflect the spirit of the exception culturelle from 1993.

I thank the Minister for coming in with this vitally important legislation. It is critical to how we define our society, culture and democracy. There has been much reference already to the Oireachtas Joint Committee Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media and the work it has done on this Bill. I have to say, along with Senators Cassells, Warfield and Carrigy, and our colleagues in the other House, we worked very closely in a collaborative way. We put aside our party differences and realised how important this work was.

I am very grateful, as I am sure all my colleagues are, that the Minister took on board most of the 33 recommendations from our committee, especially in the area of a strong and well-resourced online safety commissioner. I also thank all of the witnesses who came before us and the officials from the Minister's Department who have done significant work on this.

The Bill is so critical to our democracy and Second Stage debate is about the broad principles, but dealing with it on Committee Stage will be very important and analysing it section by section. I hope that this debate is not rushed when it goes before the House. I appreciate there is an urgency to some elements of this legislation, but sufficient time needs to be given to some of the debates around the issues. Debates on these issues include the question of how one balances freedom of expression with responsibilities and tackling online harms and other issues to which some colleagues have already referred. Being able to get philosophical concepts tied down into legal definitions will be challenging, but we must do it and get it right.

I noted the Minister was somewhat specific in terms of staffing levels. Colleagues have already referred to one of the challenges around the levels of resourcing. If this agency is to be the one to act around the enforcement and oversight of the Digital Services Act, I am not convinced that 300 members of staff will be sufficient. This is likely to be the most powerful regulator in the State or, certainly, one of them. The Minister needs to ensure there is ambition, not just in staffing numbers, but in terms of the level of staffing. We cannot have a situation, which has arisen with regard to the Data Protection Commissioner around the enforcement of data privacy, arising in this area.

Senator McGahon is right about how this will go. This regulator will be looking at regulating activity in the metaverse. It will be dealing with a convergence of new technologies, ones about which we have not even thought. We have to ensure the regulator is ahead of the curve. I welcome that we are looking at codes, algorithmic decision making and the use of algorithms more widely. That will certainly be important.

My party and the Government strongly supports the introduction of a content levy. We see its purpose as, very clearly, to support the vibrant independent production sector here in order that we can ensure Irish stories are told internationally. It is important we know how this content levy will operate. We need to have it in detail and in a way that will enhance and develop the Irish independent content creation sector.

I will turn to the issue we debated most which is the question of how we deal with online harms and safety. I am sure the Minister will be aware this will probably be the biggest element of the debates we will have. One of the most interesting discussions we had was with Mr. Julian Inman-Grant, the Australian eSafety Commissioner. That office has been up and running for six years. We can certainly learn a lot from what has happened and the experience in Australia.

I understand the challenges around an individual complaints mechanism and I support it. However, given the sheer volume of complaints, what one does not want, especially if we are regulating at a European level, is for a regulator to be overwhelmed. We need to look at very clear definitions in the legislation around online harms. A taxonomy of online harms needs to be drawn up. We need to use technology and harness AI and other technologies to be able to tackle some of the problems we face.

I appreciate why the Minister gave the 90 days to the expert group. I am not sure it will necessarily be able to come up with all the answers within that period. Similar to Senator Higgins, I have concerns around the terms of reference given to the group.

One final point on it is something I will look to amend. It is something we talked about with the students who came in, for instance, from Kinsale Community School and Tallaght Community School, around the idea of an online safety youth advisory council. It is that we engage young people to be able to advise the online safety commissioner. This is something we might explore further.

I sincerely thank the Minister. I know she is committed to this Bill. This is hugely important - I would even say one of the most important items of legislation that we could enact over the term of this Oireachtas. I hope that, on Committee Stage, we have sufficient time to debate in detail the core philosophical questions that we have to address.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Oireachtas joint committee on this Bill. It has been a lot of work for all the members in terms of preparing the report and I am glad to see that at least some of the recommendations that were advocated and recommended have been taken on board by the Minister. Some of them are still under review as part of the ongoing work over the next period of time and that is important as well.

I would make one point first, in relation to the commission itself. Generally, when new agencies are being established, they are established with a CEO and a chief financial officer, CFO, and a team of civil servants, and a board of directors would oversee the work that they carry out. This is the establishment of the commission, and perhaps it relates to its independence. I do not know how or why that path was taken. I am concerned in relation to the number of commissioners - less than three and not greater than six. Is there a board that is overseeing the work of the commission as well or is the commission doing the work of the board? It is unusual the way it is. In any other experience that I have had with agencies, they have an overseeing board that is accountable. In this case, there will be six commissioners who will be staff of the Coimisiún na Meán. That whole process is somewhat strange.

I welcome the establishment of the new regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, and the implementation of the EU services directive as well - the updated regulatory framework for broadcasting and on-demand audiovisual media. No doubt times are changing and things are changing. Certainly, we need to move with the times and ensure that there is regulation of all forms of media. That is certainly to be welcomed.

I welcome the initiatives that have taken place as well regarding the provision of the levies on content to be invested in Irish content. Irish audiences, as Screen Ireland has said, are paying international online media services and to be able to charge a levy to ensure that that money is invested in original Irish content is certainly welcome. However, there are concerns that the Bill does not state when this levy would start. There would be concerns that we are missing out on valuable funds that could be invested in Irish content.

I certainly welcome - perhaps this came from the committee as well - the provision in the powers and functions of the commission that the democratic values enshrined in the Constitution, especially those relating to rightful liberty of expression, are upheld, that the interests of the public, and in particular the interests of children, are protected, which is hugely important, and in the proposed new section 7(3)(d), that the commission shall promote and stimulate the development of programmes in the Irish language - tá sé sin fíor tábhachtach - and that programmes relating to climate change and environmental sustainability are included. I am wondering why those two latter points alone are included and if this should be the case for other areas such as, for example, programmes to encourage accurate portrayal of history and to encourage people, in particular, young people, to be made aware of or shown accurate historical content in an easier way to learn. We are missing out in this country and across the world on our history in a wide range of areas and it is hugely important. Over the past number of years, we have seen the proliferation of jargon around fake news. That is an issue of concern. I suppose it originated in a particular jurisdiction but the proliferation of fake news is an area of concern across the world. Public service broadcasting is hugely important to provide accurate portrayal of the news, not one's opinion or one side's opinion. The partisan media that are portrayed in the United States certainly are not something that I would like to see. The facts should be the facts. They should not be your facts or my facts; they should be just the facts. There needs to be a reliable source of news, journalist integrity and a public service broadcast that can state what the indisputable facts are. That is important.

I welcome the Bill. It is complex. I acknowledge the amount of work that has gone into it and I certainly hope that there will be a fuller debate on Committee Stage on all relevant sections.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank the Minister for prioritising this important Bill and for all the work that she has put into it along with her officials. I thank also the Oireachtas committee for the work it has put in, in terms of examining it. I certainly appreciate the Minister's clarification on a number of issues at the start - it was very welcome - and her thorough analysis of the Bill and all of its parts. I am certainly pleased to support this Bill in the House this evening.

Media safety is so important. The integrity, honesty and transparency that we attach to media and the need to know that they are all of those things are really important. It certainly deserves a lot of focus on it. While there are already significant regulatory and legal frameworks in place in relation to many online issues such as data protection and criminal justice responses to criminal activities online, there is a serious gap, both internationally and here in Ireland, when it comes to addressing harmful online content. It is good to see that this new Bill will close the legal gap and it will establish a robust regulatory framework to deal with the spread of harmful online content.

The fact that this Bill will establish a new regulator, a multi-person media commission to which an online safety commissioner will be appointed, is very welcome.

Having a strong, robust and reliable media and social media is so important, especially in light of the key role that the media played during the Covid pandemic. The considerable role that the media performed in dispersing key Covid and health messaging shows the vital role that they play within our society when used correctly and in a positive manner. You cannot beat the media in terms of the dispersal of accurate and true information. Ensuring that citizens are provided with accurate and comprehensive information is of vital importance. Citizens need to be well informed of the goings on within their country. The media are a key link between decision-makers and the people but they also are a vulnerable one. Many people rely on them for information from the Government and for other factual content and it is important that they are getting correct and reliable information.

While media freedom is at the core of democracy, it is paramount that there is little or no disinformation being spread by the media. The need for professionalism and fact-checking is crucial when giving information is vital, especially in times of crisis. I am pleased to hear that Ireland ranks 12th out of 180 countries regarding the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. This proves our dedication to free media and our media's dedication to combating disinformation. However, we must always remain vigilant and this Bill certainly helps us to do that.

We have seen the power of disinformation in recent years, months and, would I say, days, especially in terms of recent US presidential elections and the concerted efforts made by Russia to utilise modern media and social media platforms to spread misinformation and to combat the reliability of certain media.

Online safety is obviously a key part of this. Especially in the debate we had around Coco's Law, there was a really strong demand for an online safety commissioner. That is the key part of this for me. A significant proportion of our lives happen online nowadays and this is particularly true for those of us in public office. We all need to be vigilant about our own safety and know the signs to look out for online. This is especially important for our younger generations. We must protect our young people, children and teenagers. I refer to those who are growing up online, engaging in their first relationships online and using online tools and social media in their daily lives. We must ensure that we have a regulatory framework that is fit to purpose but also that we are educating our young people about how to conduct themselves online in a very safe way. I have every confidence this Bill will go a long way to doing that. When it gets to Committee Stage we will look at all the detail, much more will be examined and there will be further analysis. I welcome this Bill reaching Second Stage and thank the Minister for the work she has put into it.

I welcome the Minister. I thank the joint committee for putting a huge amount of work into this. That includes the report and the numerous meetings it had. I am sorry I missed it and that I am not on the committee as it has been very interesting. However, I worked in advertising and marketing for 15 years so I know how important this Bill is and how much it is needed. It will be one of the most important Bills we work on during this mandate. We must take proper account of the influence of new media. I was watching "Pam and Tommy" on Disney+ over the weekend. I watched how that was part of the explosion of the Internet. It reminded me of how important this Bill is and how old that seems, but this has only happened over the past couple of decades. The Bill is absolutely necessary. This should be the time responsible digital citizenship catches up with unregulated online platforms and, therefore, I completely get how significant this is.

We have heard all the good reasons for this around online safety, bullying, the influence on diets and image and the list goes on. I do not like referencing when other Senators say things I think inappropriate but I have an issue with a Senator saying we are here because parents are not doing their job. I give my phone to my seven-year-old and I know what she is watching. Giving a child a phone, under supervision of a parent, is not a bad thing to do. We are not here to judge people. If we are going to recognise we need laws and rights for children in the real world then why would they not need them online? We have recognised the online world is the Wild West so we either provide rights and regulations there or we leave it as it is, and for me that is not an option. This is indeed about protecting rights but it should not be about judging parents.

On aspects of the Bill, I agree with what Senators have said about the individual or direct complaints mechanism. We have a huge responsibility here not just to our citizens but because we are tech leaders, this has an impact on 27 other member states and we must rise to that challenge. I understand where the Minister is coming from and welcome the report the expert group is doing but if we want to see the step change we need this must be part of it. While initially it might take significant resources, there should be a standard that is set out and that changes behaviour. Similar to what other Senators have said, this is not about us being reactive but about us becoming proactive and investing in keeping up with technology and proactively challenging the damaging algorithms that are out there.

On community radio, I have been asked to request that the scheme for professional journalists on practices in community sound broadcasting be extended to television as well. I ask that there be more specificity about what those schemes are with respect to the monetary value and how many of them there will be for community radio, which is a huge and important part of the media landscape.

I have one last point; I apologise as I am running out of time. I agree we need an explicit reference to banning online advertising of junk food, alcohol and gambling. I worked in the industry and the TV and radio code is not effective enough. Companies had to get their ads approved when I worked in the industry. They had to be approved by RTÉ for radio and TV. That does not happen in the online space. It has been recognised the BAI needed to address it and it did not because of this Bill. Children do not watch TV just up until 6 p.m. with their parents and it is not just children's programmes, where TV is concerned. With online, we must definitely look at the recommendations of the committee and enforce them in that regard.

The Bill will, among other things, establish a new regulator and multi-person media commission, to which an online safety commissioner will be appointed. While there are significant regulatory and legal frameworks in place to address many online issues such as data protection and criminal justice responses to criminal activities online, there is a serious gap in Ireland and internationally when it comes to addressing harmful online content. This new law will close that legal gap and establish a robust regulatory framework to deal with the spread of harmful online content. The commissioner will govern this new framework through binding online safety codes and robust compliance, enforcement and sanction powers. Online safety codes will deal with a wide range of issues, including measures to be taken by online services to tackle the availability of harmful online content, such as cyberbullying material, on their services. The media commission will replace the BAI and be responsible for overseeing updated regulations for broadcasting and video-on-demand services and a new regulatory framework for online safety created by the Bill. The Bill will also transpose the revised audiovisual media service directive, AVMSD, into Irish law, including the regulation of video sharing platform services as part of the regulatory framework for online safety. As the Minister pointed out, harmful online content will be defined by reference to defined categories of content, including a category containing a schedule of criminal offences and three further categories relating to cyberbullying, the promotion of suicide and self-harm and the promotion of eating disorders.

I have every belief the Minister is strong and resilient about this Bill. I have no doubt she will see this through. I assure her that the public very much welcome this Bill. I will be honest. Though they do not say it do us, many families are frozen by fear. Do I take the phone off my youngster? Do I talk to them? If I do that, what way should I approach it? There is a horrendous fear out there. The Minister and the Government are bringing forward robust legislation, which I agree may need to go though Committee Stage a little slowly so we cover every aspect of it.

Once people see it going through and an effort by all of us to put this in place, I think they will be very happy. Ms Frances Haugen is a hero in my eyes. She is travelling the world, informing us and others of what is going on. Remember, she is coming from the inside out. She had a very well-paid and well-to-do job. She took a huge decision to do what she is doing. We should be grateful and thankful to her. I think she will be around the Oireachtas tomorrow.

To be honest, I do not have much trust in the tech companies. They create many jobs here and many people have good employment with them and I acknowledge that. However, I, like many of the Members, have had family deeply traumatised because of big tech companies failing to act and deal with material that was vile, evil and downright threatening. This has happened to thousands of people. We heard on RTÉ over the weekend of those vile threats to people in Galway involved in politics.

The Bill is strong and if necessary, we can make further improvements to further strengthen it. We must all acknowledge, perhaps sometimes we are afraid to say it, that misinformation is all over our political system. It is doing enormous damage to democracy. We always had the cut and thrust of politics. What comes up now on social media is very damaging. What is annoying is that so many people believe the most outrageous lies that come up there. Therefore, we are in a very difficult situation.

I reiterate that the Minister and the Oireachtas committee deserve much praise. I have no doubt we are doing the right thing. I would be careful about saying parents have responsibilities. While they do, we are in a very different world with social media. We all know its good aspects but there are really bad aspects of it. I will go back to what I said earlier, which is that many families are frozen with fear and they will very much welcome this lead being taken by the Minister and the Government. I hope it pays dividends.

I welcome the Minister. This Bill is well overdue and we can all acknowledge that. It is also one of the most comprehensive legislative measures in the world when it comes to dealing with social media. Too often we come into the Seanad Chamber and say that the law is not in the same place as people are. This Bill acts as a vanguard when it comes to online safety for children and, indeed, all of us. We said the same thing when it came to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act and now we have legislation here to which people all over the world will point and they will say that Ireland is a leader when it comes to tackling the problems.

I often say that I believe children should be educated in an online world because this is the way we all socialise now. Let us be honest about it. With that comes danger, particularly around advertising. We know that we are targeted more and more than we ever were before when it comes to advertising. This Bill listens to the stakeholders. A significant amount of time was spent in pre-legislative scrutiny and this is the first Government to take the time with pre-legislative scrutiny of all of these Bills. The Bill is being welcomed by a number of organisations, which is to the credit of the Minister and the Oireachtas joint committee. Thirty-three of the recommendations were taken on board by the Department, which just goes to show the seriousness with which the Government and the Minister’s Department is taking the work of the Oireachtas committee and the stakeholders and witnesses that came before it.

We have to be honest about it and state there are two sides to the coin. There are those who will say that we need freedom of expression and those who will say that we have to regulate something that can cause danger. In the first instance, this Bill refers to liberty of expression, which is unusual in legislation, but it also looks to be flexible. The Minister has taken on board some of the concerns that organisations had and she went beyond where the legislation will go by setting up an expert group on the safety of children online. That, again, is the right thing to do.

The Bill is a massive 146 pages long. As a lawyer myself, I note every single word matters. Some 146 pages of words that have been well thought through and comprehensive but are flexible enough to be able to adjust the situation that we all find ourselves in is exactly what we need at this point.

There is always room for improvement. I would love to see more on infant formula, which was one of the suggestions in the Oireachtas joint committee and something about which I feel very passionately, as does the Minister. On thinking back, I have been a breastfeeding advocate and set up breastfeeding support groups with friends in the past. The landscape has changed and it is not just what we see on the breaks as we watch television programmes. It is now at 3 a.m., when we are desperate and have a child who will not sleep and we are searching online and looking for something for mastitis or something to make the child fall asleep. That is when we are being assaulted by online advertising saying that it has the answer and it is something that can be sold to us. That is where the danger lies for all of us. Therefore, we have to be agile enough. Setting up expert groups on the back of this legislation is agile enough but I would love to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that and what we can do. We do not know all of the answers now, even with this legislation.

This is extremely important legislation. It is probably some of the most important legislation that we will debate in this House because of the far-reaching effects it will have on people’s lives. With that, I would like to thank the Minister for coming in today. It just shows how important this piece of work is, that the Minister is here with us. I commend the manner in which she is running her Department and dealing with issues.

Given that Internet companies are unable to regulate themselves and have clearly failed to do so, it is time that a country stood up and regulated the tech companies. That is what we are trying to achieve in this Bill.

The Acting Chair, Senator Cassells, worked in local media for many years. In those days, there was integrity, decency and a sense of responsibility. All of that has, unfortunately, gone out the window when it comes to social media. There are absolutely good elements to social media. Many people have connected in and through social media in a way that would have only been dreamt of ten, 20 or 30 years ago. It is extremely important when it comes to issues such as crowdfunding, GoFundMe, raising awareness on issues, running campaigns and so on.

However, there is a dirty, rotten side to it. That dirty, rotten side is where the fake news, terrorists and people who want to humiliate, bully, harass and intimidate have a forum behind a keyboard where they can do it with anonymity and get away with it. They have been allowed to get away with it by the big tech companies that are more interested in their billions than in regulating the industry. Therefore, I welcome this Bill. It is a wonderful piece of work. I want to commend the Oireachtas committee on the work it has done because that work has gone on over a protracted period.

When one opens a bank account, one has to have forms of identification. One has to have a passport, a driver’s licence and so on. I often wonder why somebody is allowed to open a social media account without verifiable proof as to their identity and a traceability that if it is abused and used for wrongful purposes, it could be traced and linked back to somebody.

When someone buys a mobile phone and opens an account, he or she has to go through those processes. Unfortunately, that does not happen with disposable mobile phones, although I think it should. If somebody wishes to open a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media account, there should be a verifiable, four- or five-step process. Technology is wonderful, so why can it not do that? It is because the companies do not want to do it. If somebody under the age of 18 wishes to open an account, his or her parents should have to provide multiple forms of identification and take responsibility for the account. Of course, this does not suit the tech companies.

I am happy our country is taking a lead on this. We have taken a lead on many different issues over the years. Given some of the social change this country has led, with the support of popular referendums, we can do it. This legislation is another example of us standing up to the world and saying this is not right. Our small country is going to change it, and when that happens, others will follow. I wish the legislation well. I am glad there was a productive, meaningful and wholehearted engagement on it during this debate. I look forward to it being refined and improved and I wish the Minister well with it. It is probably one of the most important items of legislation she will bring through during this term of Government. We cannot forget about local media and the challenges it faces in trying to embrace social media because there is no money in it for local media. That is why we need a root-and-branch review of the entire licensing system, with the introduction of a household media charge, because that will bring in more money and ensure we can resource public service broadcasting, not just at national level but at local level as well.

I thank the Senators for their valuable contributions. The constructive approach demonstrated during the debate reflects our shared determination to put in place an effective regulatory framework for online safety and audiovisual on-demand services. It builds on the intensive scrutiny the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media gave to the general scheme of the Bill last year. The diverse range of issues raised on the floor in the past few hours highlights both the scale of the Bill and the fact it will break new ground regulating sectors that have so far not been subject to oversight. As such, it represents an important step into a new frontier of lawmaking. I agree with Senator McGahon that this Bill is not the final word when it comes to legislation in respect of the online world but rather the first of many in the coming years as more legislation comes from Europe.

I reiterate the core contents and objectives of the Bill. It will ensure we are all exposed to far less harmful online content and that online services will be required by law to respond to, and robustly deal with, complaints when they are made. While the Bill will not and cannot address every issue of concern arising from the online world, it will create a robust and adaptable framework for accountability that can be amended and expanded over time to match the pace at which, as Senator McGahon mentioned, the tech world moves. This framework will be enforced by Coimisiún na Meán, which will include an online safety commissioner and have one of the most modern and robust suites of regulatory powers in Irish law. In providing a basis and starting point for the regulation of harmful online content, the establishment of Coimisiún na Meán is the most vital part of the Bill. In regard to broadcasters and streaming services, the Bill is fundamentally about the modernisation of the regulatory environment, enabling the commission to deal with the continuing changes in how we engage with and support our media in Ireland.

The Bill has a critical EU law dimension, given it will transpose the revised audiovisual media service directive, which has strongly informed the underpinnings of the coimisiún. As Senators will be aware, given the complexity of this legislation, we missed the transposition deadline for the directive, which is one reason I am especially keen to see the legislation progress through the Houses to enactment as soon as possible. Having said that, I am committed to comprehensive debate in this House on Committee and Report Stages, which will provide opportunities for us to discuss each section of the Bill and any amendments in further detail.

In the time that remains, I will endeavour to address the issues raised by various Senators. I thank Senators Martin, Cassells, McGahon, Warfield, Sherlock and Higgins for raising the individual complaints mechanism, a matter I have been considering closely for some time. The issue of providing for avenues of redress against individual pieces of content in the online world is complex. The approach in the Bill as published is to provide Coimisiún na Meán with the power, through the making of binding online safety codes, to require that regulated online services have effective complaints mechanism in place, with powers of audit and investigation in that respect. In addition, the Bill provides that the coimisiún shall establish a super-complaints scheme under which bodies such as NGOs or other expert groups may be nominated to notify the commission of matters relating to online safety, including in respect of the availability of harmful online content.

There are practical issues with providing the online safety commissioner with an almost ombudsman-like role in this regard, including the volume of content online, the fact it will regulate some services on an EU-wide basis, issues of due process and questions of how quickly decisions could reasonably be made. However, in light of the recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee in the pre-legislative scrutiny report on the general scheme of the Bill, I am examining how these issues can be addressed. As I set out at the start of the debate, this is why I established an expert group to report to me within 90 days on these matters, with recommendations I may use as the basis for an amendment to introduce an individual complaints mechanism. The terms of reference of the expert group are very much focused on the practicalities of whether the individual complaints mechanism can work. Senator Malcolm Byrne mentioned the Australian e-safety commissioner, and this group will engage with that commissioner. I had hoped the Australian e-safety commissioner could be a member of the group but she was not available. Instead, she has committed to engaging with the expert group, which is important. As I have said on many occasions, if an individual complaints mechanism can be provided for in the Bill, I will ensure that is done. I met the expert advisory group and made clear at our first meeting that that was my intention.

Given the timeline set out in the terms of reference for the group, I expect to receive the report at the end of April and then consider whether and what amendments will be required in the context of Committee Stage in the Dáil. Taking account of the work of the expert groups under way, I do not want to pre-empt or prejudge any recommendations it may make, although I reiterate I am committed to a full and open discussion of any Government amendments made in the Dáil when the Bill, as amended, is returned to this House.

Senator Keogan raised the issue of the commission being funded from the licence fee. The Bill will enable this but not require it. It is carried over from the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 and will allow the broadcasting levy to be reduced for broadcasters, including independent radio. To clarify, TG4 is not funded from the licence fee. Senators Keogan and Pauline O'Reilly spoke about how a rights-based approach has been taken in the Bill, which will underpin the work of Coimisiún na Meán. This means there will be a careful balance between the need to safeguard freedom of expression while taking into account that children and other members of the public need to be safeguarded. Their rights matter too.

Senators Martin, McGahon, Warfield, Kyne, O'Loughlin and Murphy raised the issue of disinformation. This is, of course, a significant and complex issue that requires a distinct and targeted response. The EU is reviewing the code of practice on disinformation in order to strengthen it and to link it to the forthcoming Digital Services Act, which will set out the standards for platforms in dealing with these issues. The code of practice, a European Commission imitative, has involved a range of online platforms, leading social networks, advertisers and advertising industry players to sign up to self-regulatory standards to fight disinformation.

The commission intends that the code will evolve into a co-regulatory instrument under the Digital Services Act. In addition, the European Commission has established the European Digital Media Observatory, including a hub in Dublin City University, which has been tasked with monitoring the implementation of the code.

Senator Sherlock asked about specifying the role of the online safety commissioner. This is primarily a drafting issue. During the drafting process, legal advice was given that explicitly carving out specific roles within the multi-commissioner model could create difficulties if, for example, a commissioner was ill or if we wanted to appoint more than one online safety commissioner to an coimisiún. I am looking at how these issues can be overcome and will table an amendment to the Bill to address this matter. In any case, it is my intention, and that of the Government, to advertise for, and recruit, an online safety commissioner this year through an open, transparent and effective process managed by the Public Appointments Service. Work is under way in this regard.

Senator Kyne questioned why this would be a commission and not a board. This is the model for many regulators. For example, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has an executive chair and a number of commissioners, while ComReg and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities also have a multi-person commission model.

Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the issue of youth advisory groups. The Bill, I am glad, provides for advisory committees to coimisiún na meán to be established.

Senator O'Loughlin asked about the educational role of the media commission. The online safety commissioner will have a role in carrying out educational initiatives such as public information campaigns and I will work with existing educational bodies such as the Department of Education, and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on this. The commissioner will also be able to endorse third-party providers of online safety educational materials, which will help schools source appropriate and robust online safety materials for students.

Senators Cassells and Warfield raised the Future of Media Commission report. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, provided for the establishment of the commission to consider the future of print, broadcast and online media. This was in recognition of the challenges facing the media sector, such as falling advertising revenue arising from the shift in consumption patterns due to evolving technology. The commission was tasked with making recommendations to the Taoiseach and myself to ensure that the future funding of public service broadcasting could be sustainable, give security of funding, ensure independent editorial oversight and deliver value for money to the public. The commission completed its work last autumn and submitted its report to the Taoiseach and me. As Senators can imagine, the report's recommendations are far-reaching and will inform media and broadcasting policy in the coming years. The commission's recommendations require careful and detailed consideration, particularly in light of a range of other complex and interrelated issues that will require decisions by the Government in the wider media and digital space. It is intended that the report be brought to Government for consideration shortly.

Senators Cassells, McGahon and Malcolm Byrne raised the issue of staffing. Some €5.5 million was secured as part of budget 2022 to establish the media commission on an administrative basis prior to the enactment of the Bill. This funding will help in the recruitment of key personnel. I previously stated that staffing of approximately 120 will be required during the start-up phase of the media commission. In the longer term, I estimate that the commission will require in excess of the 300 I mentioned at the beginning of the debate to fully operationalise its envisaged functions. I anticipate the need for additional staff, should the commission be assigned further functions in the future, including in respect of upcoming EU legislation. Of course these staff would need to have specific expertise. That goes without saying.

With regard to the data tracking issue raised by Senator Sherlock, that is a different matter from content regulation and lies with the Data Protection Commissioner. However, the Bill provides for co-operation between the online safety commissioner, coimisiún na meán and other regulators.

Senators Cassells, Warfield, Sherlock, Higgins, Currie and Pauline O'Reilly raised bans on the advertising of gambling, alcohol, foods high in fat, salt or sugar, or HFSS foods, and infant formula, particularly with regard to advertising to children. It is not a question of bravery. These are significant and cross-cutting matters that bring together a range of different policy areas under different Ministers. For example, the regulation of gambling advertising is set out in the recently published general scheme of the gambling regulation Bill, which comes under the Department of Justice. Infant formula, food and alcohol advertising are policy areas under the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Health and are already subject to extensive regulation through, for example, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. While my officials are engaging with officials from other relevant Departments on these matters, it is clear that the functions and expertise for these policy areas lies more appropriately with those Departments. The online safety commissioner will have a role in regulating commercial advertising on certain online services through its online safety codes. Just as the BAI does currently, the commissioner will engage with health experts and others in developing these codes and will reflect public policy in this regard. This will also be the case in respect of media codes and rules that will apply to broadcasters and video on-demand services.

Senator Higgins raised section 30 of the Data Protection Act, which banned processing of children's data but was never commenced. This confirms that the issue has a strong data protection dimension. The regulators will collaborate. The Senator also raised the potential overreach. The powers have been scrutinised by our legal advisers but I am open to listening to concerns in that regard.

The Bill provides for measures to ensure the prominence and findability of public service content. I agree with Senator Warfield that this is an important matter as the volume of content and services expands. On the matter of data and access for researchers, this will be provided for in the Digital Services Act.

Senator Conway raised age verification for children online. There is a real issue with young children accessing online services that simply were not designed with them in mind. It is an issue of which I am particularly aware, both as a parent of young children and as chair of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, which recently released a comprehensive report on children's online safety. We need to find workable solutions to the negative uses of online spaces. Anonymity raises a number of complex issues, including privacy and data protection matters that would need to be resolved before a solution could be effectively implemented. In this regard, an EU-funded pilot programme called euCONSENT is in development. That pilot aims to deliver a system for online age verification and parental consent that balances the rights of children with the need to protect them from online harm and age-inappropriate content. The outcome of this pilot will inform any approach taken to this issue at EU and national level. I will ask an coimisiún to look at this issue as a priority and to identify potential options and solutions to dealing with this complex issue. As I said previously, not everything can be dealt with in a single Bill but what matters now is that we have the framework in place.

Senators Cassells, Warfield, Malcolm Byrne and Kyne raised the issue of the content production levy. The revised AVMSD provides member states with the option of introducing a levy on television broadcasting and video on-demand services to fund audiovisual content production. To exercise this option, section 53 of the legislation provides that coimisiún na meán may introduce a content production levy and a content production scheme to fund the production of European works, including Irish works. The proceeds of any such levy would go into a content production scheme, which producers could apply for funding from. It would be similar to the sound and vision fund. It is intended that this levy would be introduced by the comisiún, subject to an assessment of its viability and whether it would have negative effects.

As I said earlier, there are risks as well as benefits here for the Irish audiovisual sector. In line with EU law, any levy introduced under the Bill must be imposed equally on all services targeting the Irish market, including Irish services and those based outside Ireland. That means that Irish media service providers such as RTÉ or Virgin Media Television would also be subject to this levy. In addition, both Irish services and those based in other member states of any size will then be eligible to apply for the content production fund established as a result of the levy. Any levy will only apply to income earned within this State. For example, for a provider such as Netflix, which earns 2% of its overall EU revenues in this State, the levy can only apply to that 2%. The aforementioned factors could significantly constrain the overall positive impact on the potential level of additional funding for Irish content.

I was asked if I would set out the exact percentages and the process involved with the levy in the legislation. That approach would be inflexible and an coimisiún, as an independent body, should have the power to design and enforce the levy and change it over time. I expect that an examination of the content levy will be among the priorities of an coimisiún upon its establishment.

I am almost out of time. I apologise to those who raised issues I did not address.

I look forward to a constructive and detailed debate. As I said, I am committed to that debate. The interest Senators have shown, their attendance and their varied contributions show how important this legislation is to many Senators. I look forward to debating it further.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response and for clearly engaging with the arguments put forward. I could not help thinking while she was speaking that it must be unique to have a Minister address the House with her brother, a distinguished Member, listening. It is a unique and wonderful occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 March 2022.