Irish tech sector presses for urgency on online safety measures

New Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill paves the way for a new watchdog to regulate online services and to reduce the availability of harmful content.

The Irish Government has given the green light for the recruitment of an Online Safety Commissioner, who will act as a powerful regulator to enforce accountability in the sector.

The move follows Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD’s publication of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

“Ireland will be among the last EU member states to implement the online safety framework provided for in the AVMS Directive”

The Bill will establish a new regulator, a multi-person Media Commission which will include the Online Safety Commissioner. This new body will be responsible for overseeing updated regulations for broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety created by the Bill.

The Media Commission will also have roles in relation to the protection of children, research, education, media literacy, journalistic and creative supports. In carrying out these roles the Commission will support and promote an open, trusted and pluralistic media and online environment.

“The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill marks a watershed moment as we move from self-regulation to an era of accountability by platforms for online safety and a more joined up approach to audiovisual media regulation. I am pleased to be publishing this landmark piece of legislation,” said Minister Martin.

“One of the most important aspects of the Bill is that it establishes a new, powerful regulator to enforce accountability in the sector. The Media Commission will include an Online Safety Commissioner to enforce not just this legislation, but also additional legislation and measures that will be brought forward at European level in the coming years.”

Need for speed

Technology Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the technology sector, has expressed concern that the timeline for the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Bill will extend past Summer 2022 and is calling for more urgent progress on the implementation of the Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive, and the alignment of other online safety provisions with Digital Services Act requirements.

Responding to the cabinet approval of the OSMR Bill, Director of Technology Ireland, Una Fitzpatrick said: “Technology Ireland and its members have been consistent in supporting the goals of the OSMR Bill in providing a systemic approach in regulating online platforms and digital services. 

“However, this Bill was first announced in January 2020 and the delay in getting to this stage does not reflect the urgency of establishing the Media Commission and implementing the Audio Visual and Media Services (AVMS) Directive. Ireland will be among the last EU member states to implement the online safety framework provided for in the AVMS Directive.

“The policy landscape has evolved significantly since this Bill was first announced, with the EU’s proposed harmonised approach to online safety through the Digital Services Act (DSA) approaching finalisation. Based on the current expected timelines, the DSA will be finalised before this Bill is enacted and it remains unclear as to how some provisions in this Bill will be compatible with that.”

She added: “We welcome the intention to establish the Media Commission on an administrative basis and industry looks forward to engaging with the Commission. We also need clarity on the composition and terms of reference for the expert group the Minister proposes to establish. This group should complete its work quickly and have regard to the extensive consultation and debate on the regulatory model that has already taken place over the past three years.”

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.