Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage


4:57 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

My apologies, I need to catch my breath. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill provides for the establishment of a multi-person media commission, including an online safety commissioner. It also dissolves the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and assigns its functions to the media commission and transposes the revised audiovisual media services directive. This directive provides for the regulation of video sharing platform services and establishes a framework for the regulation of online safety to address harmful online content, which will be administered by an online safety commissioner. The modernising of our laws in these areas is to be welcomed. It is clear that stronger safeguards for people online, especially children, are vital in terms of mental health and well-being. Self-regulation of online media has not been successful and the current legislation is outdated.

Online content has changed beyond expectation and the legislation has failed to keep up.

Other issues that need to be addressed include a wider definition of harmful content to include 40 existing criminal offences; cyberbullying; the promotion or encouragement of eating disorders, self-harm or suicide; and the making available of knowledge of methods of self-harm or suicide. The Bill also provides for additional categories to be added in the future, including both criminal and non-criminal categories. It is all very well providing the framework in this legislation, but the Minister must also ensure there are ample options for people who are aggrieved to take action to protect their safety rights online.

We must ensure there is investment and promotion of Irish-language media. Online platforms should be held to high standards of transparency. The media commission must be adequately resourced to ensure it can carry out its expanded workload.

This Bill provides for a complaints mechanism under the new commission, but it does not go far enough. During pre-legislative scrutiny, several groups including the Children's Rights Alliance, CyberSafeKids, the Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children called for an individual complaints mechanism to ensure an option is open to members of the public when platforms refuse to take action to remove content. Not surprisingly, social media companies like Twitter and Facebook lobbied against such a mechanism. The chosen mechanism must strongly favour the protection of the public. A similar model exists in Australia.

We must consider the well-being of the staff who work in the area of reviewing harmful content. There must be safeguards to protect employees’ mental health and well-being. What better place than this Bill to implement these safeguards?

Gambling is not covered directly in this Bill but there is a great deal of academic evidence to show that online gambling can increase problem gambling behaviours. We must ensure adequate safeguards are included to address the harm caused.


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