Tech giants in Ireland could be fined €20m under updated Online Safety Bill

9 Dec 2020

Image: © tanaonte/

The Government has updated the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill to include a fine up to €20m for company non-compliance and criminal liability for managers.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, TD, today (9 December) published the finalised general scheme of the proposed Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill.

The scheme was approved on 9 January this year and includes extra provisions that will see tech companies and broadcasters held more responsible for failing to clamp down on material promoting topics such as cyberbullying, self-harm or suicide. Martin said she was pleased to see progress in the “important piece of legislation” that will introduce a “fair, proportionate regulatory framework for online safety”.

The updated Bill now includes new levies placed on industry to fund the new Media Commission, replacing the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

While traditional broadcasters in television and radio will simply be paying a levy to the Media Commission as opposed to the BAI, video on-demand services and designated online services will also be brought under the jurisdiction of the new commission.

Martin said that, in some circumstances, the commission will have a role in regulating tech companies with European headquarters in Ireland, citing Apple, YouTube and Facebook as examples.

While financial sanctions were approved in January, an additional provision has now been added which sets the limit a company can be fined for non-compliance at €20m or 10pc of annual turnover, depending on which amount is the highest.

She added that financial sanctions must act as a “suitable deterrent” and must be sufficient to prevent companies from “gaining an economic benefit” by non-compliance. A provision has also been made that will see senior management at companies being held criminally liable for inaction on enforcing these rules.

‘Light touch regulation has been the norm’

A content production levy was also revealed by the Government, with the proposal that it would target audio-visual media companies in Ireland or those in Europe that target audiences in Ireland. While it would be administered by the Media Commission, the new body will first look to investigate its viability before it is implemented.

“Among other things, a content production levy has the potential to support the production of quality Irish content,” Martin said. “However, prior to its introduction research would be undertaken to demonstrate that the levy would be of sufficient benefit and provide meaningful support to the production of Irish content.”

The new framework, the minister added, would ensure a greater regulatory alignment of television and streaming platforms such as the RTÉ Player, Apple TV and the Google Play Store.

“For many years light touch regulation has been the norm for video on-demand services,” she said. “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.”

The finalised general scheme has been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General so that it may continue drafting of the Bill as well as the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. The European Commission will also review the proposed Bill and have the authority to block its implementation should it be deemed non-compliant with EU law.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic