BAI publishes plan for regulating harmful content on social media

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has published its submission on regulating harmful content on social media.

The authority says that by having a sole regulator of online content, users will be protected and that the objectives with underpin the media will be protected.

These include the promotion of freedom of expression, democratic discourse, diversity and plurality.

The BAI regulates broadcasting in Ireland, including commercial stations and RTÉ and TG4.

As part of its submission published today, the BAI welcomes the proposal to introduce new laws to protect people from harmful online content.

The plan was submitted to the Government’s Public Consultation on the Regulation of Harmful Content and the Implementation of the Revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

This revision was put forward by the Minister for Communications Richard Bruton earlier this year.

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AMSD) governs the coordination of national laws across the EU regarding the media.

Ireland has until September 2020 to transpose the provisions of this directive into law.

The BAI wants two separate but complementary regulations around online safety and videos online specifically.

It says that it should have the power to issue ‘harmful online content removal notices’ on behalf of people in Ireland directly affected by harmful content they have seen online.

Additionally, awareness of online safety would be promoted to the public by the regulator.

In the long term, this would lead to the development of an online safety code which would apply to online Irish online service providers in order to minimise the potential harms which could be caused to audiences and users.

In its strand submission pertaining to the regulation of platforms for sharing videos, the BAI notes that most of Europe's biggest companies which provide these services, such as Facebook and YouTube (which is owned by Google) are based in Ireland.

It proposes that these companies should be directly regulated under law, and that the rules of the AMSD should be implemented here through laws and codes.

Under these codes, the "fundamental protections for freedom of speech on video-sharing platform services" should be protected while at the same time ensuring that issues which arise on these platforms, such as protection from harm, are addressed.

The BAI says that as the sole media regulator, it would be responsible for developing these rules and, in turn, examining the measures taken by the video-sharing platforms to implement those regulations.

A "robust and transparent" complaints and appeal system would also be part of this framework.

In addition to monitoring the actions of social media companies, the BAI is also calling for greater consistency between how on-demand services such as RTE and Virgin players, and more traditional broadcast streams are regulated. This is to "reflect the changing consumption patterns amongst audiences".

It notes the "key role" which Irish broadcasters play in delivering news here, and says the current oversight of these services should continue in line with the transposition of the European Directive.

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. T

"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 said.

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