7 things you need to know about the proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill

29 January, 2020

Richard Bruton T.D., the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment recently published the general scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. Set out below we have highlighted the key points in the Bill.

1. What is the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill?

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill ("the Bill") will introduce new online safety laws to bring legislation up-to-date with the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive ("AVMSD") which governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services.

The Bill introduces online safety codes to outline how online video sharing services deal with harmful content. An Online Safety Commissioner ("the Commissioner") will be established as the regulator to ensure adherence to these codes. The Commissioner will be part of a new multi-person Media Commission, which replaces the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

2. Why does it matter?

The new law is one of the first of its kind in the world and is breaking new ground in terms of how online video sharing services will be required to deal with harmful content (e.g. cyber bullying, materials encouraging self-harm and criminally offensive content). It is seen as a critical step in making the internet a safer place, particularly for children.

To date, online services have been largely self-regulating in this area, setting their own safety measures and not being externally accountable under law. The Commissioner will regulate online content and will have the power to apply sanctions for non-compliance with the new laws. These sanctions will range from financial penalties right up to blocking an offending service.

This will represent a significant challenge for these online services many of which have their EU Headquarters in Ireland.  For platforms with their established EU Headquarters in Ireland, the Commissioner will have cross-EU jurisdiction based on the AVMSD Directive.

3. Who will be impacted by the Online Safety Proposals?

The proposed Bill will create a system where the Commissioner can designate any online service that allows a user to share or get access to content that other users have made available. Therefore, a wide range of services may be designated by the Commissioner, including:

  • Social media services
  • Public boards and forums
  • Online gaming services
  • E-commerce services
  • Private communication services
  • Private online storage services
  • Online search engines
  • Internet service providers

A super complaints mechanism will allow nominated bodies e.g. expert charities and also individuals to bring issues with online services to the Commissioner's attention. The Commissioner can then consider the designation of these services if not already done so. It is likely that the Commissioner will initially focus on the designation of larger or riskier services where the potential for exposure to harmful content is highest. These regulations will create new challenges for Community Operations and/or Trust and Safety Teams within the designated services as they deliver content moderation at scale.

4. When does the Bill take effect?

The establishment date has not yet been defined by the Minister, however the deadline for nations to transpose the EU AVMSD Directive into legislation is 19 September 2020.

5. What will be in the Online Safety Codes or Rules?

The Commissioner will develop online safety codes on a range of topics, including:

  • Measures to tackle the availability of harmful online content;
  • Measures about commercial communications (advertising) on services;
  • User complaint and/or issues handling mechanisms operated by the online services; and
  • Risk and impact assessments for online services to undertake.

It is anticipated that the online safety codes will not apply to every online service the Commissioner regulates given the diverse range of services in scope.  The Commissioner will have the power to define which codes apply to which service.

6. What powers will the Commissioner have?

The Commissioner will have a broad remit including the authority to:

  • Designate online services to fall within the scope of the Commissioner;
  • Request information from online services;
  • Investigate the compliance of online services;
  • Audit any complaint or issues handling processes that online services operate;
  • Issue compliance notices advising what an online service needs to do to bring itself into compliance;
  • Issue warning notices advising what needs to be done and the sanctions if the online service does not comply; and
  • Impose sanctions - including financial penalties, compelling actions be performed right up to blocking an offending service.

7. What are the next steps?

The Department plans to hold a number of stakeholder engagement sessions over the coming period on key issues from the Bill.

The proposed Bill will be reviewed with the Office of the Attorney General and at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. If the Bill is voted through the Oireachtas it will become law and the Media Commission including an Online Safety Commissioner will be established.

How we can support you

We advise media publishers, online platforms, public sector organisations and marketing and advertising companies on all aspects of their business. Our dedicated team with expertise in technology, compliance, customer experience and operational change can provide you with further information on the proposed legislation and how it might affect your business. Please contact us using our details below.

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Damian Byrne

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Fiona Gaskin

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

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Michael McDaid

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

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