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Minister Martin publishes the finalised General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill
10 Dec 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, T.D.
The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, T.D., has published the finalised General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

The General Scheme was approved by Government on 9th January 2020. Today, it has been added to with extra provisions regarding the funding of the Media Commission, regulation of audiovisual media services, upper thresholds for financial sanctions, the establishment of a content production levy, and criminal liability for senior management under the regulatory framework for online safety.

Funding of the Media Commission

The General Scheme proposes funding the regulatory activities of the new Media Commission through the introduction of industry levies. While more traditional broadcasters in television and radio will simply be paying a levy to the Media Commission as opposed to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, video-on-demand services and designated online services will be brought under the jurisdiction of the Media Commission and as a result, also be subject to industry levies.

“The use of industry levies is a common approach among regulators in Ireland and will help to ensure the independence of the Media Commission,” said Minister Martin. Furthermore, it is essential that the funding model is adaptable. Crucially, the proposed model will allow the Regulator to amend the levy and respond to changing circumstances.”

Regulatory framework for audiovisual media services

The General Scheme sets out a regulatory framework for audiovisual media services. In line with the revised Audiovisual Media Services Directive, this framework will ensure a greater regulatory alignment of television and video-on-demand services such as RTÉ Player, Apple TV, and the film section of the Google Play Store.

Minister Martin highlighted the importance of extending the role of the Media Commission and the scope of services subject to regulation: “For many years, light-touch regulation has been the norm for video-on-demand services. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will establish more appropriate regulation of these services and ensure that they are subjected to similar regulatory obligations as television broadcasters.”

Screen Producers Ireland (SPI) welcomed the publication of the finalised Bill adding in a statement that they “note that the General Scheme of the Bill includes the provisions of the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), which Ireland is obliged to implement without delay.” 

“These provisions include the opportunity for Ireland to introduce a content levy and specific investment obligation on online media services targeting Ireland, like Netflix or Disney Plus, which would then fund original Irish content and a new 30% European works quota on these same services along with other changes.”

The Bill also reforms the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) into the Media Commission. It is this Commission that would then administer the AVMSD obligations such as the content levy and European Works quota. 

SPI has however flagged its concern that there are no “clear timelines or levy percentages” as part of the General Scheme of the Bill and have called on the Government to introduce these to the final draft of the Bill when it comes to the Oireachtas.

“Many European countries have already introduced a content levy and/or investment obligation on these services,” said a spokesperson for Screen Producers Ireland. “It is imperative that we do not delay acting on this opportunity and miss out on funding to produce original Irish stories and create employment in the Film and TV industry.”

Over €4.6m allocated by Creative Europe to Irish screen industry in 2021
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