Broadcasting watchdog rejects criticism of plans to police online content

The Irish broadcasting watchdog has rejected criticism that it is not the right institution to regulate harmful online content of social media giants Facebook and Twitter.

Michael O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), admitted it would be “daunting” to regulate online video content of large tech companies across Europe, but he said the body had the regulatory expertise needed.

The BAI has submitted a proposal to the Irish government seeking an extension of its powers to police harmful online content of social media platforms based in Ireland. These include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The body, which regulates traditional broadcasters, wants the power to be able to issue take-down notices to these companies, ordering them to remove harmful content from their platforms when instructed.

It also wants to regulate the activities of video on demand platforms and develop online safety codes for companies operating out of Ireland.

Ireland, like all other EU member states, must implement new laws by September 2020 to improve online safety.

“What may be daunting is that you’re going from a situation where you’ve nothing – you’ve no regulation, no official regulation as such – and you’re going to a situation where you have a statutory regulation,” Mr O’Keefe said.

“That’s a significant shift, but it’s a very positive shift.”

Mr O’Keefe said once the regulation is implemented it will mean there that a person being affected by harmful online content will have somewhere to make a complaint.

“There will now be a statutory basis for the person that’s affected to go to a regulator and require action to be taken. That’s the key change. It’s a statutory basis for people making a complaint of something of that nature.”

But the BAI’s proposed move into the realm of online regulation was criticised by a director of Data Compliance Europe.

Simon McGarr told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme that he does not believe the BAI is the right institution to regulate social media.

Mr O’Keefe recognised it would represent a “significant change” for the organisation, but he said it was achievable once the appropriate systems were put in place.

He added that it would require the companies to “buy into” regulation of the industry and recognise their own responsibilities.

“Regulation on its own won’t solve it,” Mr O’Keefe added.

“It does need the companies to buy into having better systems, stronger more robust systems in place to prevent hate speech, cyber bulling, all of those issues.

“They will have to take part in this as well. I’ve no doubt they will, I think they’re committed to it.”

The BAI made its submission to Communications Minister Richard Bruton, who is considering the next steps to take in terms of online safety.