The controversial Online Safety Bill has been the subject of much debate and comment in the UK, but the Irish government has now passed the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 which also promises to have a significant impact on the media and tech landscapes in Ireland and beyond. 

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 amends the Broadcasting Act 2009 to:

  • establish Coimisiún na Meán (a multi-person Media Commission);
  • dissolve the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland;
  • establish a regulatory framework for online safety;
  • update the regulation of television broadcasting and video on-demand services; and
  • transpose the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive into Irish law. 

The new Media Commission will be Ireland’s designated regulator under the Digital Services Act.

A new Online Safety Commissioner will oversee the regulatory framework for online safety.  It will have the powers to make binding Online Safety Codes to hold designated online services to account for how they deal with serious forms of harmful online content.

The Act also gives the Commissioner powers to introduce an individual complaints mechanism on a phased basis, with the first phase focusing initially on children.  The Commissioner will also have powers to require the removal or limitation of availability of specific items of harmful online content, either following a complaint or following its own investigation.

The Act also provides for an updated regime for the regulation of television broadcasting.  In addition, video on-demand services will be brought under statutory regulation for the first time. Like broadcasters currently are, providers of VOD services will be required to comply with binding codes and rules, including in relation to advertising, accessibility and impartiality in news and current affairs.

The Act provides Coimisiún na Meán with new compliance and enforcement powers. These include:

  1. the powers to appoint authorised officers to conduct investigations of suspected non-compliance
  2. to require the provision of information;
  3. and to seek administrative financial sanctions of up to €20 million or 10% of turnover.

There is also an ultimate sanction of criminal prosecution for providers of regulated services under the Act who remain in breach of the rules.

Coimisiún na Meán will also have a role in promoting media sustainability and development through a dedicated Media Development Commissioner. The Media Development Commissioner will be responsible for creating and maintaining funding schemes for media production and training, including schemes to support professional journalistic practices, among others.  The Media Development Commissioner will have the role of reporting on the feasibility of introducing a content production levy to fund content production schemes.

The Act will come into effect when commenced by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport. This will be done by Statutory Instrument and is likely to be at the same time as the formation of the Media Commission. Appointments to Coimisiún na Meán are due to be made in the near future. Once in force, it will be interesting to see how the codes of practice devised by Ofcom and the Irish regulator, as well as their priorities, compare.  In addition, the interplay between the Irish regime and the Digital Services Act requirements will be one to watch.