An official of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board wants streaming sites like Netflix and iFlix, among others, regulated to ensure that movies and other contents they carry are compliant with the MTRCB law.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano slammed the MTRCB for its plan to regulate video content in streaming platforms like Netflix.
“This is the kind of bureaucratic thinking that gives government workers a bad name,” Cayetano said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.
“The people are facing so many problems and yet this is what the MTRCB wants to prioritize,” said Cayetano.
He said he was puzzled why the issue suddenly cropped up but added that since the hearings for the 2021 National Budget were already under way, “Congress will give them (MTRCB) a chance to explain how they came up with “this ridiculous idea.”
Speaking during the Senate trade committee hearing on the proposed Internet Transactions Act, MTRCB’s legal affairs division chief Jonathan Presquito cited the need to regulate streaming service platforms, adding these movies are unrated.
“There is a necessity for us to proceed with the regulation, especially during the lockdown,” Presquito said, stressing that most people subscribe to movie streaming services like Netflix, iFlix to keep their sanity intact.
But Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, author of the bill, said the measure did not cover the regulation of video content being offered to online consumers.
“What our proposal intends to do is limited to the buying and selling of video on demand insofar as the content is concerned, whether that is Rated R or Rated 18+, that’s another law (the measure for content review will involve another law),” Gatchalian said.
He said that was not “part of this proposed law because that’s a whole new different dimension altogether,” he added.
Gatchalian proposed that it better be addressed in a separate measure since it was delving on the content side.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said “we have to think about the stand of MTRCB on the issue.”
“It’s either we update our laws to catch up with technology or we enforce our archaic laws and hold back technological progress,” he said.
“Definitely they (Netflix, etc) are doing business, subscribers coming from and based in the Philippines and watching from the Philippines,” he added.
But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon opposed the MTRCB’s plan, saying it should “instead allow Netflix and other media to self-regulate content.”
In a statement, Drilon said: “It’s very impractical. There are thousands of shows on Netflix alone – how will MTRCB review each one?
“Can the MTRCB review every single content that can be accessed through the internet? What will they do about virtual private networks that allow users to access content from other countries?
“If they insist on it, then taxpayers will be paying MTRCB only to stream movies and shows 24/7, 365 days.”
He noted that Netflix had self-regulation mechanisms that were not present in, and were perhaps, more effective than the regulation or classification in television.
Netflix classifies shows based on whether these are for General Patronage, Parental Guidance, 7 and above, 16 and up, R-18 and so on.
Drilon added the Constitution prohibited censorship on content as it was tantamount to prior restraint and infringed on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
However, Presquito maintained that when the entity was registered with MTRCB, three things could happen: Movies that would be streamed are age-appropriate, prohibited content can’t be seen, and the movies shown online are authorized by the distributors.
In other countries, he noted that all Netflix content would undergo prior review. He cited South Korea’s policy that requires the prior review of the contents from the American movie and technology giant.
“We want an environment of growth and, in fact, during our engagement with different regulators in the [Southeast Asian] region, the commonality is let’s allow the streaming service to flourish but how do we balance that with the regulatory mechanisms,” he said.
He said the MTRCB law covered all motion picture content regardless of the platform.
If the entity was selling the material, he said, that entity first must be registered with the MTRCB and second the material being sold must be duly passed upon by the MTRCB.
“Otherwise, it is a clear violation of the MTRCB law,” he added.
As early as 2018, he said they were already engaged with the regulatory counterparts in different regions as well as the different stakeholders for the implementation of the MTRCB law on how to regulate motion picture content distributed via the internet like Netflix, Amazon prime, Iflix and the rest.
In 2019, he said they were invited by the representatives from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Trade and Industry since at that time they were ready to impose the regulation.
He said the MTRCB had prepared a draft of regulatory policies but one dilemma was hampering its roll out.
“We don’t want to create an impression that MTRCB will be violating the other laws of the Philippines. For example, Netflix will register with MTRCB and yet Netlfix won’t comply with SEC law on doing business, won’t comply with the BIR law on registration, won’t comply with the local government regulations, mayor’s permit,” he said.
Cayetano said if the MTRCB wanted to be relevant at this time, “what it should be thinking of is how to help improve the [film] industry because we have been left behind by our Asian neighbors.”
“The irony here is that, while Congress and other government agencies are doing everything they can to open up lines of communication with the public, and increase transparency, MTRCB is focused on the outdated mindset of information regulation and censorship,” Cayetano said.
“What decade are you living in?” he asked.
Cayetano said the fact that Netflix and other online content are beyond the jurisdiction of the MTRCB “makes this even more mind-boggling.”
He said while Presidential Decree 1986 granted powers to the MTRCB, it also limited its scope to “motion pictures, television programs and commercials intended for public exhibition in theaters and television.”
“There is no Netflix in that law. That’s because this law was crafted before the commercial use of the internet — and that medium has since grown by leaps and bounds,” Cayetano said.
Meanwhile, Marichu Lambino, a professor on media law and ethics, said the MTRCB had no power to regulate content on video streaming apps like Netflix.
site Netflix and other similar providers.
Lambino said: “The MTRCB has no jurisdiction over video streaming apps because computer programs are property and courts have jurisdiction over that.”