11/23/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/23/2022 11:31
Dia daoibh, a chairde, agus céad míle fáilte romhaibh. Cuirim fáilte ar leith inniu roimh aon duine atá ag tabhairt cuairte ar Éirinn. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh taitneamh as tairiscint na hÉireann le linn bhur gcuairte agus go gcloisfidh sibh, fiú, ár dteanga álainn dúchais.
Firstly, I would like to welcome any visitors to Ireland. My Ministerial portfolio is quite broad, so along with responsibility for media, I am also Minister for the Gaeltacht, or the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland. In my opening words in the Irish language, I expressed my hope that some of you get to hear some more of our beautiful, native language, during your stay.
In addition, I am the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Arts. In that capacity, I hope you have the opportunity to explore Ireland and to experience some of our country's natural beauty, wonderful live events or even some of our thriving night-time economy.
Through this role, I am aware that the opportunities that digital technologies provide for Ireland's creative sector and cultural output cannot be understated. Ireland's position as a digital hub places these opportunities at our fingertips and this Government is committed to realising these and supporting creativity and innovation.
However, Ireland also has an obligation to deliver and resource a modern and robust regulatory framework to ensure that people, especially children, are kept safe online. Through our National Digital Strategy, Ireland has committed to delivering a balanced digital regulatory framework which will help to foster and sustain a dynamic, creative and innovative online culture and we must balance this with the appropriate regulatory requirements from an online safety perspective.
In this context, I would like to speak about three things today. The first is the crucial developments this Government is progressing through the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. This piece of legislation, when implemented, will ensure that Ireland has a strong and well-resourced regulator in place with the power to enforce a robust regulatory framework for online safety.
Importantly, this regulatory framework will be adaptable and responsive to technological and regulatory changes, which leads me to my second item, the Digital Services Act. This EU Regulation will introduce a system of obligations for most online services and a new regulatory role called the Digital Services Coordinator. As a result, I would consider the regulatory structures created by the Bill to be important in implementing key components of the DSA.
Finally, I want to speak about some of the other initiatives being progressed at a national and European level. For instance, there are important discussions happening around the issues of media literacy, disinformation, and age-verification which I believe will lead to the further development and expansion of regulatory requirements in the realm of online safety in the coming years.
Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill
As part of my remit, I have progressed the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, which I intend to have enacted before the end of the year.
The Bill is wide-ranging in terms of its purpose. Perhaps most significantly, it will establish a new regulator, to be known as Coimisiún na Meán. An Coimisiún, through an Online Safety Commissioner, will bring to an end an era of self-regulation for those online services which provide access to user-generated content - social media platforms in particular.
As a parent, I am very conscious of the risks of harmful content and the need to ensure that our children have a safe space in which to explore the boundless opportunities provided by the internet.
The Online Safety Commissioner will have a key role in this regard. This Commissioner will fully develop, apply and enforce the regulatory framework for online safety to minimise the spread and amplification of some of the most serious forms of harmful online content. This will be achieved through rules and standards set out in online safety codes which must be adhered to by certain online services in respect of the operation of their content delivery and moderation processes.
I think many of us can relate to frustrations with the handling of complaints by some online platforms. In light of this, the Bill mandates the Online Safety Commissioner to set down rules for designated online platforms for how they handle complaints.
In addition, the Bill will provide a legal basis for An Coimisiún to introduce an individual complaints mechanism. This will allow users, as a last resort and after first complaining to the platform, to submit complaints directly to An Coimisiún about specific items of content. I would envisage that this mechanism will initially prioritise complaints which relate to availability of potentially harmful online content which impacts children.
Coimisiún na Meán
As I have mentioned, the Bill will also provide for the formal establishment of Coimisiún na Meán. Many will be aware that in advance of its establishment, we have been recruiting for key personnel and, in particular, the positions of Executive Chairperson, Online Safety Commissioner, and Media Development Commissioner.
These processes are now concluding and I would envisage these roles being filled on an administrative basis in the New Year.
This progress will ensure that the new regulator is ready to manage the transition of functions and staff from the existing Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and to really hit the ground running once formally established.
Digital Services Act
The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and the establishment of Coimisiún na Meán will be essential in advance of implementing the Digital Services Act. Many will be aware that it entered into force on 16 November 2022, which gives a 15-month timeframe until implementation is required to be completed.
I am aware of some industry concerns regarding a potential conflict between elements of the Digital Services Act and the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. However, as I have already mentioned, the regulatory framework for online safety is adaptable and responsive to changes in the regulatory environment.
In addition, the Irish Government has already decided that Coimisiún na Meán will be the Digital Services Coordinator and enforce the rules set out in the Digital Services Act. This will ensure that at a practical level, there will be strong alignment in the implementation of both the Bill and DSA requirements.
Also, as it is the case that further legislation is required to implement the Digital Services Act, this will provide an opportunity to address any issues that emerge in practice and that require further legislative alignment, as required.
Other National and European initiatives
As part of my final item for discussion, I want to quickly run-through some of the on-going developments in relation to media literacy, disinformation, and age-verification solutions. I consider these issues to be key issues in the future in the context of expanding regulatory requirements for online services, particularly for our children.
Firstly, I consider media literacy to be vital to empowering people's understanding of how media works in the changing environment, to interrogate the accuracy of information and to have online experiences that are as safe as possible.
Therefore, providing children, their parents and their teachers with media literacy skills is a key part of protecting children online. In addition, media literacy has the potential to help children develop their creativity and problem-solving skills in today's technology-rich environments. For these reasons, I have included in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, a role for Coimisiún na Meán in carrying out research and educational initiatives in media literacy.
Good work has already been done in this area. In 2016, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland launched a Media Literacy Policy and developed the Media Literacy Ireland Network. This network is an independent association of voluntary members committed to the promotion of media literacy in Ireland and includes various major online services.
Among other initiatives, the network has supported Webwise, the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Centre. I strongly support the work of this centre in providing targeted resources for students within the school curriculum. These resources aim to provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to strengthen their online safety, online privacy and digital citizenship.
As well as this education piece, we must also protect children by minimising their exposure to misinformation and disinformation.
In this context, the recently published Future of Media Commission report recommended the creation of a National Counter Disinformation Strategy.
This strategy will seek to coordinate national efforts to counter disinformation, to promote media literacy initiatives and to support research and policy development in the area. My Department is engaged in work at present that will see the establishment of a working group to develop this strategy.
In relation to the issue of policy development, it is important to mention the European Commission's Code of Practice on Disinformation. This will act as a co-regulatory instrument within the Digital Services Act and I would envisage it will be a key consideration of the working group in drawing up Ireland's National Counter Disinformation Strategy.
Finally, in the context of age-verification methods, it's firstly important to acknowledge that there is a very real issue with young children accessing online services that were not designed with them in mind. It's an issue that I'm particularly aware of as a parent.
I am also conscious of the complex issues associated with potential age-verification solutions, for example, around the protection of children's data but there is encouraging work on-going at a European level through the EU-funded pilot called 'euCONSENT'.
The pilot aims to deliver a system for online age verification and parental consent which balances the rights of children and the need to protect them from online harm and age-inappropriate content.
Notably, the pilot forms part of the second Better Internet for Kids Strategy, launched by the European Commission in May. The strategy includes, as one of its three pillars, a focus on child protection in the online environment, digital empowerment and active participation.
Under this pillar, there is a strong focus on providing age-appropriate online experiences, including through age-verification and age-appropriate design. I will be asking Coimisiún na Meán to engage with the Better Internet for Kids Strategy and to further consider and research what it is we can do in Ireland to ensure that an appropriate, balanced solution is found.
To conclude, I reiterate my strong belief that we can continue to harness the wide-ranging opportunities presented by digital technologies, particularly in the Irish arts and culture sector. These digital opportunities have offered a key starting point and stepping stone for many Irish artists.
However, we must also be cognisant of the danger associated with the online world and our responsibility to address it. The problem is particularly evident within those online services which can host very serious, in some cases, illegal, user-generated harmful online content, with no restrictions applied to prevent viewing by children.
The enactment of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will be an important first step in ensuring the safety of all people, especially children, who participate in the online world.
I wish you well in your further deliberations at today's conference.
Thank you all for your time. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.