Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage


5:07 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I will not be able to keep going for that amount of time. There are two other speakers coming like a train behind me.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 has the potential to create a level of accountability that is sorely needed. According to the Children's Rights Alliance, however, critical measures are needed to ensure the legislation lives up to its name. The Bill envisages the appointment of an online safety commissioner and the creation of a new media commission with the power to fine non-compliant companies up to €20 million, or 10% of turnover. However, complaints can only be brought by nominated bodies and not by individuals.

This is a very serious Bill. It is something I support. I feel it is going in the right direction. Young people have very serious concerns. They are being bullied online. All sorts of shenanigans are going on, unfortunately, on their mobile phones and in the world that we live in today. My own feeling, and this was the case with my own children even though they are not children now, is that children have too much access to mobile phones. The dangers that are on them can upset children, and that can lead to many serious mental health issues. That issue needs to be addressed and I hope this Bill helps to address it.

I also encourage parents to act. I was talking to a person recently and their child was with them. I spent three and a half minutes talking to the child. During that time, the child never took its head out of the phone, even though the child was answering me to the side. I like talking to children - it is lovely to do so - because they are very intelligent and tend to be more open about things, but that child would not look away from the phone during that time period. Mobile phones have children completely perplexed. Parents need to stand up and be a little stronger in saying to children that they need to put away the phone sometimes in life. Children need to get back to the ordinary things that young people used to love, such as helping out in the local community and doing things in local community organisations, even if it is only a bit of Tidy Towns work or something small like that. These activities deliver a great deal more satisfaction than looking at a mobile phone during every spare minute that the child has.

I would like to make another point while I am talking about the media. I was at a presentation in Leinster House on a slightly different issue last week. I suppose it was also about getting out the freedom of information to advise young people. Two newspaper organisations, Local Ireland and NewsBrands Ireland, were lobbying for a 0% VAT rate for publishers to bring them in line with many other countries, including the UK. This would help in some way to meet the massive challenges they are currently facing. A total of 16 newspapers have closed in Ireland in the past decade. This does not just concern print media; it also concerns digital media.

While I am at it, I would like to thank the digital and print media in my constituency of Cork South-West, including the Southern Starand The Courcey Chronicle. I also thank Neil Michael who recently travelled with us to Belfast on our 100th Belfast or Blind coach journey. He saw for himself the difference this makes. He was good enough to print some of the patients' stories and experiences.

It is very hard to get a fair trial from the media at times. I am often quite critical of RTÉ for rarely having members of the Rural Independent Group on its political shows. We have a political voice out there. If that is bullied and pushed aside, it leaves a great deal to be desired.

As we all know, the Internet is a fantastic tool as long as it is used properly. We all saw the benefits of the Internet over the lockdown period. We saw how invaluable it is in Dublin and in bigger cities where it is available. Unfortunately, rural Ireland still does not have proper connection. This is a very serious issue that has not been completely addressed. The wireless operators have been trying to address that to the best of their abilities but certainly the roll-out of broadband has been a big failure of this and of previous governments.

As I have said, this Bill has the potential to create a level of accountability. That is what every one of us here should support. We should not have to see people being hurt or wrongfully tried by someone on social media. In quite a number of cases, people's lives have been ruined. It is something I feel very strongly about. I hope that this Bill will go a long way to create an open society. One of the biggest things is that when people are wronged and they try to rectify that wrong, nobody is there to do that. Hopefully, this Bill might be able to work on that.


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