In its report released yesterday on government proposals to regulate digital media, the Joint Commission on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Media broadly endorses the Coalition’s approach, but suggests significant improvements that will strengthen legislation, will improve the independence and weight of its media commission proposals, and show the way forward to eliminate legal uncertainty regarding definitions of harm.
Among his proposals on the Online Security and Media Regulation Bill (OSMR), due to be released this month, is the need for an explicit reference to a powerful online security commissioner, making part of the media committee, specifically tasked with protecting children online.
The commission, which will have the power to order platform withdrawals and fines, would also be tasked with overseeing streaming services such as Netflix and given the role of administering a tax on them to support independent productions. indigenous people, and to maintain a quota of Irish and European productions. The report supports the creation of an individual complaints system for aggrieved citizens, positively citing the Australian experience where such a mechanism functions as a “safety net” for platforms that fail to respond effectively to individual complaints. The committee urges the removal from the bill of the exclusions from its mandate regarding defamatory content, data protection, privacy, consumer protection and copyright violations, all of which are already provided for elsewhere.
The feasibility of such changes is questionable, although reform of the libel law is long overdue. And the suggestion that “disinformation” be included as a category of harmful online content would also be problematic in practice and in terms of definition. There is an important balance to be maintained in order to preserve freedom of expression, even the right to speak out. By protecting the political independence of the media commission, the commission makes important and welcome proposals restricting the right of ministers to dismiss commissioners. Their initial appointments, however, would remain in the gift of a minister.