BAI want power to order social media providers to take down content

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The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has, proposed the introduction of new statutory regulation for online videos and harmful online content. The BAI’s vision for the future of media regulation in Ireland is explored in its submission to the Government’s Public Consultation on the Regulation of Harmful Content and the Implementation of the Revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which was initiated by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton TD, earlier this year. All EU member states are required to transpose the provisions of the AVMS Directive into law by September 2020.

The implementation of the new Directive and the proposals for a national framework for online safety provides an opportunity to develop a vision for the future regulation of online media. In its submission, the BAI sets out its vision and outlines the manner in which it may be practically realised. Having given significant consideration to the matter, and drawing on its own regulatory experience, the BAI is of the view that the introduction of new regulation can be most effectively accomplished through the introduction of a single, comprehensive regulatory scheme and regulator.

In the view of the BAI, introducing new rules through a single comprehensive regulatory scheme and regulator offers an opportunity to develop a vision for the future regulation of media content across all platforms and services which, at its heart, seeks to serve and protect audiences and users in the new media environment. The regulator should have regard to the wider objectives of content and services that serve citizens – ensuring Diversity and Plurality, the promotion of Freedom of Expression, sustaining and enhancing democratic discourse, and facilitating linguistic and cultural diversity.

A summary of the BAI’s proposals under each of the strands highlighted in the Minister’s consultation document are set out below:

  • Strand 1: New online safety laws to apply to Irish residents

In the submission, the BAI welcomed the Minister’s intention to introduce regulation to protect Irish residents from harmful online content. It said that regulation introduced to ensure online safety and new EU regulation specific to online videos should be implemented in a separate – but complementary – manner, with aligned strategic objectives.

The BAI’s submission advocates for regulatory powers to rectify online harms by issuing ‘harmful online content removal notices’ on behalf of Irish residents directly affected by harmful content. In the longer term, the BAI envisions the development and enforcement of an online safety code applicable to Irish online service providers in order to minimise harms. The BAI also proposes a role for the regulator in promoting awareness of online safety issues among the public and industry.

  • Strand 2: Regulation of Video Sharing Platforms

The submission notes the growing reach and influence of new types of services that make videos available on the internet and the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive’s requirement to regulate video-sharing platform services. It also notes that most of Europe’s largest providers of video-sharing platform services, such as YouTube and Facebook, are based in in Ireland and will be regulated in this country for their European activities.

The BAI proposes that video-sharing platforms should be directly regulated by a statutory regulator and that the Directive’s rules should be implemented through legislation and statutory codes. It believes that fundamental protections for freedom of speech on video-sharing platform services should be enshrined in these codes, while addressing significant protection issues that arise on such services in respect of videos.

The BAI envisages the role of the media regulator as being responsible for the development of high-level rules and regulation, and then assessing the measures taken by video-sharing platforms to implement those rules. The BAI also envisages a robust and transparent complaints system and independent appeals mechanism as part of that regulatory framework.

  • Strand 3: Regulation of on-demand services

The submission welcomes a greater degree of regulatory consistency between on-demand services and linear broadcasting services, which reflects the changing consumption patterns amongst audiences. The BAI notes that the use of on-demand services in Ireland continues to increase, with over 50% of Irish adults now regularly accessing videos through these platforms.

The BAI believes that the most appropriate means of introducing the revised Directive’s new rules for on-demand services is through statutory regulation and codes, and to assign the role of overseeing on-demand services to the statutory regulator.

  • Strand 4: Minor changes to regulation of linear television broadcasting

In its submission, the BAI notes the essential role played by Irish broadcasters in the delivery of news and current affairs content, their strong ties to the Irish State and its culture, and the key role they play in the creation of Irish content.

The importance of broadcasting to the Irish State and its culture justifies the continued regulation and oversight of these services in the current manner, except to the extent that changes should be made pursuant to the transposition of the revised Directive.

Commenting on the submission, Chairperson of the BAI, Professor Pauric Travers, said: “There is general agreement that the regulatory framework has not kept pace with the convergence of television and internet.  This is a particularly important issue for this country, given that many of the major international platforms are based here.  Ireland has a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to lead the debate and chart the way forward in relation to online safety and regulation.”

“The BAI’s submission sets out the Authority’s vision for the regulation of online media, an approach to its implementation and a rationale to support it. In facing the challenges of this brave new media world, the BAI believes we should be bold and practical and play a proactive role in the architecture of the new regulator,” he added.