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ByrneWallace LLP Hosts Online Safety & Media Regulation Briefing

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By Chamber Press Office, 25 May 2023

ByrneWallace LLP Hosts Online Safety and Media Regulation Briefing in Association with Dublin Chamber

On Tuesday, 16 May, ByrneWallace LLP, in association with Dublin Chamber, hosted a breakfast briefing in their offices to discuss the recently enacted Online Safety and Media Regulation Act and the newly established regulator, Coimisiún na Meán.

Ireland’s newest regulator, Coimisiún na Meán, was formally established on 15 February 2023, to regulate content consumed through non-traditional media including audiovisual on-demand providers (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney) and video-sharing platforms (YouTube, Facebook, TikTok). Coimisiún na Meán has a wide remit including the implementation of a new regulatory framework for online safety and has been provided with significant powers so as to allow it to achieve its aims including search and seizure as well as the ability to impose administrative fines.

At the seminar, a panel of media industry experts and a member of Coimisiún na Meán discussed how the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act and Coimisiún na Meán is likely to impact on organisations within this sector.  

Panellists included Rónán Ó Domhnaill, Media Development Commissioner, Coimisiún na Meán; Dr Maria Murphy, Associate Professor, School of Law, National University of Maynooth; Peter McCarthy, VP Legal & Corporate Affairs, Virgin Media; and Dualta Ó Broin, Head of Public Policy, Meta.

Mark O’Shaughnessy, Partner, Disputes & Investigations, ByrneWallace LLP, who specialises in media law and reputation management moderated the event, with contributions from Jon Legorburu, Partner and Head of Disputes & Investigations.

Commenting on the new regulation, partner Mark O’Shaughnessy said, “The ways in which people consume media has significantly evolved over the last two decades.  Where once you would have watched your favourite sitcom on a TV in your sitting room at a pre-scheduled time, you can now watch it on a mobile device on the train to work.

“Given the rapid advancements in technology, including not only the proliferation of mobile devices, but the explosion of user generated content, it became clear that the existing legal and regulatory framework required modernisation.

“Into this space has stepped the recently enacted Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) Act and the newly established Coimisiún na Meán.”

The most significant change introduced by the OSMR Act is the creation of the new regulator who will assume the functions of the previous broadcasting regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It will be tasked with overseeing the regulation of broadcasting, audio-visual on demand services and video sharing platform services that are established in Ireland. It has also been tasked with developing and enforcing the Irish regulatory regime for online safety.

It will prepare codes governing the standards and practices expected of broadcasters, and audio-visual on-demand media service providers. These codes will ensure compliance with obligations on harm, offence, incitement, privacy and authority of the State.

Mark added, “A key priority of the new legislation is the regulation of harmful content. The commitment to this objective is evidenced by the fact that a specific commissioner has been designated as the “Online Safety Commissioner”.  A central focus of this role, at least at the outset, will be introduction of online safety codes with a view, in particular, to protecting children from harmful online content.”

“Coimisiún na Meán has also been provided with significant investigation and enforcement powers,” said partner Jon Legorburu.  “These include the ability to search and seize materials and conduct investigations. As well as administering significant fines of up to €20 million or 10% of the relevant turnover of the business under investigation, it can also apply to the High Court to obtain an “access blocking order” which would, in effect, mean the services provided by that organisation are no longer available in Ireland.

“Interestingly, and in a move that reflects the regulatory regime currently being brought into the financial sector, the OSMR Act includes a provision to allow Coimisiún na Meán to prosecute the senior executives of non-compliant providers.”

The introduction of the OSMR Act and the establishment of the Coimisiún na Meán coincides with legislation being introduced at an EU level to regulate the online landscape. The Digital Services Act (“DSA”) came into force in November 2022. The DSA aims to alter the liability framework for online intermediaries operating in the EU and stiffens requirements around how they manage content published online. The DSA stipulates that each Member State is required to appoint a Digital Services Coordinator. The Irish Government has decided that Coimisiún na Meán will assume this role for Ireland.

Mark concluded, “Coimisiún na Meán will have a significant role in shaping the media regulatory environment over the coming years. The initial focus will be preparing the relevant codes and engaging with key stakeholders but once this phase is complete, Coimisiún na Meán will likely shift its focus to monitoring compliance and commencing investigations, where required.

“It will be interesting to see how media regulation develops over the coming years and whether Coimisiún na Meán, like other regulators, considers it necessary to utilise the full extent of its powers of investigation and sanction.”

For further information on the Online Safety and Media Regulation, contact Head of Disputes and Investigations Jon Legorburu, or Partner Mark O’Shaughnessy at ByrneWallace LLP.

To watch video highlights and insights from the event, visit here.

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