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Concerns raised over BAI's proposal to police harmful content online

The BAI has proposed that it be given the power to regulate harmful online content on social media platforms.

Image: Dominic Lipinski via PA Images

THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland has proposed that it be given the power to regulate harmful online content on social media platforms. 

However, concern has been raised about whether the BAI, which is responsible for regulating TV and radio in Ireland, is the right body to regulate social media. 

The Director of Data Compliance Europe, GDPR advisors and consultants, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the BAI ‘s 98-page plan demonstrates why they shouldn’t be the body to do it, because of its “institutional history”. 

The BAI today published 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 Richard Bruton earlier this year.

In its proposal, the BAI said it should be allowed to issue notices to remove harmful content, develop an online safety code, and regulate the activities of video sharing platforms based such as YouTube and Facebook.

“Given its regulatory experience in the media area, this is work which the BAI would be happy to undertake in advance of the drafting of the legislative provisions and would be willing to examine and evaluate practices (albeit still relatively limited) in other jurisdictions,” the report states. 

Data Compliance Europe’s Simon McGarr has argued that because of the “institutional history” of the BAI, it doesn’t have “the right instincts for regulating a completely different form of communication”.

They have taken the concept of regulating broadcast and applied it, in certain areas, to regulating communications between individuals.

Some of the arguments in the BAI’s proposal are “perfectly sensible” according to McGarr but some of the proposals have gone beyond that and appear to suggest that it should be allowed to interpret laws, including European laws, in a way that they suggest what  should be there rather than what is in the directive.

McGarr stressed that it was “important that we get this right not quick”. 

“If the process is rushed, we are inevitably going to make a mistake in relation to our actions,” he said. 

Minimise harms 

Speaking on the same programme, BAI CEO Michael O’Keeffe said that online safety was a new concept and an evolving area. 

He said that more work needs to be done to define what harmful content is adding that it will need “significant resources”. 

The BAI’s submission advocates for a regulatory body to deal with harmful online content by issuing “harmful online content removal notices” on behalf of Irish residents who are directly affected by it. 

It also hopes to develop and enforce an online safety code applicable to Irish online service providers in an effort to “minimise harms”.

The BAI’s proposal notes that most of Europe’s largest providers of video-sharing platform services, such as YouTube and Facebook, are based in Ireland and will be regulated in this country for their European activities.

The BAI has proposed that video-sharing platforms be directly regulated by a statutory regulator.

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. 

For on-demand services, the BAI believes 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.

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,” Travers said. 

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Adam Daly

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