The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will, among other things, establish a regulatory framework for online safety to be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission. The goal of this regulatory framework will be to tackle the availability of defined categories of harmful online content through systemic oversight over how certain online services deliver and moderate the user-generated content on their platforms.
These defined categories of harmful online content include content by which a person commits a criminal offences and a number of categories of potentially harmful content, these being:
- Content by which a person engages in serious cyberbullying;
- Content by which a person promotes suicide or self-harm, and,
- Content by which a person promotes behaviour associated with eating disorders.
These categories concerning potentially harmful content are carefully defined in the General Scheme to ensure that they deal with the most egregious content and respect other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. These definitions are being refined during detailed legal drafting of the Bill by the Office of the Attorney General.
While my Department has not been contacted in respect of the specific issue raised by the Deputy, provision is also made in the Bill for the addition of further categories of harmful online content in the future. This process will involve a proposal by the Media Commission, informed by stakeholder consultation, and both Government and Oireachtas approval. The Media Commission will be tasked with keeping a close eye on emerging online harms which may be suitable to be dealt with under the regulatory framework for online safety.
The purpose of this provision is to future-proof the legislation to create a statutory process by which emerging online harms such as the issue raised by the Deputy may be examined for potential inclusion as a further category of harmful online content. This will help to avoid the need for ad-hoc primary legislation to deal with emerging harms in the future.
It's intended that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will be enacted this year. The Bill is on the Government priority list for publication during the current legislative session, which ends in July 2021.
At the same time, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Bill. The timeline for this is a matter for the Committee.