2 Nov 2021, 12.05

The Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media today publishes its report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020.

In its report, the Committee makes 33 recommendations across the areas addressed in the legislation, including specific provisions concerning the establishment and operation of the proposed content levy, individual complaints mechanisms, regulation of illegal and harmful content, advertising standards, the functions of the Media Commission and in particular the establishment of an Online Safety Commissioner. The recommendations also cover the integration of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill 2019 with the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and the transposition of the revised European Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

Launching the report, Deputy Niamh Smyth, Cathaoirleach of the Committee, said: “The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is a piece of legislation with immense scope that, when enacted, will place Ireland among the first countries in the world to provide systemic regulation of online platforms. The Committee has engaged in an extensive and robust pre-legislative scrutiny process to reflect the vast importance of the Bill, and to more fully consider the wide-ranging impacts – both negative and positive – of its contents.

“We call for an individual complaints mechanism to be established for designated online platforms, for an Online Safety Commissioner to be explicitly included in the legislation, for designated online platforms to be required to provide data for public interest research, and for children’s navigation of online spaces to be protected so as not to render them vulnerable to data profiling or to harmful advertisements.

“At the forefront of the Committee’s approach to this pre-legislative scrutiny process was the Irish citizen. Our 33 recommendations champion effective and robust measures to deliver an optimal regulatory framework for the online environment and overarching mediascape insofar as these fall within the scope of the Bill.”

The key recommendations made by the Committee include the following:

  • Specific provisions are made within the Bill for the means of collecting the content levy, the party responsible for the collection of the levy, the percentage value of the levy, and the providers liable to pay the levy;
  • That content levy-funded schemes be contestable exclusively among independent producers;
  • Provisions be made for an individual complaints scheme within the General Scheme of the Bill, and that these provisions be responsive to the needs and protection of children and other vulnerable groups, and that these include effective takedown procedures and other appropriate measures;
  • Head 52A of the General Scheme of the Bill be amended to add a requirement that online social media platforms provide a quarterly report to the Media Commission on their complaints handling. 
  • The Bill be altered to remove exclusions of defamatory content, as well as of violations of data protection, privacy, consumer protection, and copyright law;
  • All reference to intention be excluded from definitions of categories of online harmful content;
  • Disinformation and financial harm, to include gambling, be included as categories of harmful online content;
  • Explicit reference be made to prevalence and placement of online content in considerations of harmful content.
  • Head 49C of the General Scheme be amended to indicate a minimum age for a child to be permitted to create an account with designated online services.
  • Head 19 of the General Scheme of the Bill is amended to include the position of the Online Safety Commissioner.
  • The Media Commission and the Online Safety Commissioner should be satisfactorily resourced, with the level of staffing and expertise adequate to allow optimal operational capacity and enforcement.
  • A ban on advertising to children online, including, at the very minimum, advertisements of junk food, alcohol, high fat/salt/sugar (HFSS) foods, and gambling. The Bill should also include a moratorium on advertising infant formula products online and the prohibition of any form of profiling or tracking children’s data.

Deputy Smyth said: “As the online environment has gradually become interwoven with the lives of all sections of the Irish population, the Committee has sought to understand how this legislation can best respect human rights while preserving the safety of every user. This work is now crucial to a democratic and pluralistic society. The Committee explicitly seeks to safeguard and promote participation in the processes of the future Media Commission, so that the regulatory landscape may develop in a responsive and effective manner.

“We cannot neglect the impact of this legislation on broadcasters and on online service providers: here, we put forward an array of recommendations to encourage that the principles of clarity and proportionality be upheld in the legislation.”

Deputy Smyth thanked the many stakeholders who made written submissions and gave oral evidence to the Committee, including the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, other public and industry bodies, and representatives of the media, broadcasters, audio-visual producers, on-demand services and social media companies for their essential contributions.

The Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020 is available on the Oireachtas website.

The Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media has 14 Members, nine from the Dáil and five from the Seanad.

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Committee membership

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Independent

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Sinn Féin

Fianna Fáil

Senators

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil

Labour Party

Comhaltas an Choiste

Deputies

Fine Gael

Independent

Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin

Fianna Fáil

Senators

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil

Labour Party