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Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill

By: Clare Daly | Posted on: 09 Nov 2021

On 2nd November, The Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media published its report on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020. The report makes 33 recommendations across the areas addressed in the proposed legislation. The proposed Bill, together with these recommendations, herald a significant piece of draft legislation that could make the online environment a safer place for everyone, particularly children and young people in Ireland.

According to Deputy Niamh Smyth, Cathaoirleach of the Committee, “This Bill, when enacted will place Ireland among the first countries in the world to provide systemic regulation of online platforms”.

Clare Daly, Child Law Solicitor, CKT highlights some of the recommendations made by the Committee.

Individual Complaints Mechanism:

It has been recommended that;

  • An individual complaints scheme would be instituted, to be responsive to the needs and protection of children and other vulnerable groups, and that these include effective takedown procedures and other appropriate measures.
  • Online social media platforms would need to provide a quarterly report on complaints handling to the Media Commission.

Regulating Illegal or Harmful Content:

The Committee also recommends that;

  • The Bill be altered to remove exclusions of defamatory content, data protection violations, privacy, consumer protection, and copyright law.
  • All reference to intention is to be excluded from definitions of categories of online harmful content, and disinformation and financial harm, including gambling, is to be included as a category of harmful online content.
  • Content such as pornography and gross or gratuitous violence is to be specifically defined to avoid subjective interpretation or potential loopholes.
  • Explicit reference to be made to prevalence and placement of online content in considerations of harmful content.

The Media Commission and The Online Safety Commissioner:

The Committee recommends that;

  • The Bill is to be amended to include the position of the Online Safety Commissioner.
  • The Media Commissioner and the Online Safety Commissioner are to be satisfactorily resourced, with the level of staffing and expertise adequate to allow optimal operational capacity and enforcement.
  • Highly precise detail is given as to the roles and responsibilities of the Media Commissioner and the Online Safety Commissioner.
  • The Online Safety Commissioner is also to take on a regulatory role in terms of online safety education and this is to be explicitly included within the legislation.

Advertising Standards:

The Committee recommends that;

  • There would be a ban on advertising to children online, including, at the very minimum, advertisements of junk food, alcohol, and gambling.
  • There would be a moratorium on advertising infant formula products online.
  • Significantly the Joint Committee also recommends the prohibition of any form of profiling or tracking of children’s data.

Conclusion

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill could become a significant piece of legislation with immense scope. The Bill has huge potential, especially if enacted to include these 33 Recommendations, to ensure that all children and young people in Ireland are safer when online. A Growing Up in Ireland study revealed that 92% of children (aged 9) in the study sample reported having access to the Internet.¹

As much as we try to protect our children from exposure to online harms, the establishment of a safer online environment must also be a goal.  Whilst this report outlines the recommendations of the Committee, much work is still to be done, for example, it is necessary to better understand how this legislation can best respect human rights while preserving the safety of every user.

Read the full report here.

 

 

¹ McNamara, E., Murray, A., O’Mahony, D., O’Reilly, C., Smyth, E. & Watson, D. (2021). Growing Up in Ireland: National Longitudinal Study of Children. The Lives of 9-Year-Olds of Cohort ’08. Dublin, Ireland: Government of Ireland. Available from: https://www.esri.ie/system/files/publications/BKMNEXT415.pdf
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