Criticism for BAI's plan to regulate online content and social media

The broadcasting watchdog’s appeal for special powers to regulate online content and social media has come under fire, with one critic claiming the authority lacks the “right institutional instincts and experience” for the task.

The criticism came after the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland released its submission to the Government’s public consultation on the regulation of harmful content.

The consultation was established by Communications Minister Richard Bruton in response to the European Council’s adoption of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

All EU member states are required to transpose the provisions of the AVMS Directive into law by September 2020.

In its submission, the BAI said it wants to develop an online safety code and have the power to issue notices to have harmful content removed.

It further wants to regulate video sharing platforms and on-demand services.

“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 BAI said in its submission.

However aspects of the BAI’s submission have been criticised, with director of Data Compliance Europe Simon McGarr stating that the Authority’s 98-page document demonstrates exactly why they should not be the body responsible for regulating the internet and social media.

Mr McGarr said the BAI has “taken the concept of regulating broadcast and applied it to communications between individuals”.

Criticism for BAI's plan to regulate online content and social media

“They're arguing that they should be the people who regulate the internet now, not just in Ireland, but in respect of everybody, certainly in the EU,” Mr McGarr told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“They're looking to write and create rules that will affect billions of people across the world,” he said. “The institution of the BAI doesn't have the right institutional instincts and experience for regulating a completely different form of communication."

Mr McGarr has highlighted two aspects in particular as part of his criticism of the BAI submission. He notes how the BAI has proposed issuing “Harmful online content notices” to both social media platforms and closed private messaging services, without explaining how this would work in the latter case.

Mr McGarr also said that when determining the scope of the European Directive, the BAI submission says the question is “not to ask if the Directive applies, but rather should the Directive apply to such services”.

Responding to the criticisms on the same programme, BAI CEO Michael O’Keeffe said its experience as a regulator is evolving over time.

He pointed to the BAI’s work in the area of media literacy and in fighting disinformation and fake news as examples of the experience it has the would prepare it for the role of Online Safety Regulator.

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