Sinn Féin spokesperson on Media Imelda Munster TD has called on Minister Catherine Martin TD to clarify the timeline of the publication of the Online Safety and Media Regulation (OSMR) bill, to ensure that the process of pre-legislative scrutiny which has been under way for several months at the Joint Oireachtas Media Committee is not a completely futile exercise.
Teachta Munster raised the matter at a meeting today of the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport where it was clarified that the government intends to publish the bill next month, despite the fact that the Committee has yet to write its report on pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill.
Teachta Munster said:
“I am very concerned about the timelines here. If this bill is to be published next month I have to question whether the Minister intends to take the pre-legislative scrutiny process into consideration at all.
“This would mean that the months of hard work that the Committee has undertaken, and the hard work of the stakeholders who made submissions and who appeared at Committee hearings, will all be for nothing, as the Minister does not intend to consider it before she finalises the bill.
“This bill is very important, and it is complex. It seeks to establish a new Media Commission to replace the BAI, it will transpose the revised Audiovisual Media Services directive into Irish law and it will provide new regulations relating to harmful online content.
“There are several areas in the bill that need to be improved, for example a specific provision relating to an Online Safety Commissioner, changes to the complaints mechanism relating to harmful content, and additional safeguards around advertising.
“The fact that amendments can be made at committee stage and report stage of the bill is largely irrelevant here, as the number of amendments will be astronomical if the Minister does not take pre-legislative scrutiny into account, and we know that the opposition can’t submit amendments that incur a cost to the state, so our hands will be tied in terms of improving the bill in any meaningful way.
“The Committee received a huge number of submissions, and we have been holding two hearings a week for several months on the bill.
“We have heard from a wide variety of stakeholders, from broadcasting, the major tech firms, representatives from children’s rights organisations, academics and others, and a significant number of important issues were raised in those hearings.
“At today’s Committee meeting we also heard from representatives from the Future of Media Commission, who intend to report their findings in July. This process may also be relevant to the OSMR bill and we have to bear that in mind too.
“I made a proposal in the Committee today that we write to Minister Martin to clarify these matters and to remind her of the importance of taking the Committee’s work into account in her preparation of the bill.“It would be frankly outrageous for the bill to be published ahead of the Committee’s report on pre-legislative scrutiny, and for the Minister to completely ignore the pre-legislative process.”