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First Netflix, Then Facebook? Why MTRCB Moves Should Be Watched Closely

Censors can't be 'God' of the Internet, says lawyer.
by Joel Guinto
Sep 4, 2020
Photo/s: Agence France-Presse

(UPDATE) The Philippines' censors board, under current laws, cannot "play God" and extend its reach to streaming platforms such as Netflix, a mass media law professor said Friday. The public should also be vigilant over such moves since it could extend to other platforms like Facebook and YouTube, she said.

A member of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board told a Senate hearing on Thursday that Netflix should be "regulated" to ensure that its content complies with Philippine laws. The MTRCB has for decades had a testy relationship with the entertainment industry over content that it finds offensive or pronographic.

A former MTRCB chairman and daughter of movie legends, Sen. Grace Poe, described the suggestion as "ridiculous and unrealistic"  and that she was "personally against it." The board's duty is to classify and "at some point, it should give way to self-regulation."

"Hindi pwedeng i-restrict ng MTRCB ang internet dahil ang internet ay mas malaki pa sa planeta. Hindi po siya Diyos (The MTRCB can't restrict the internet because it's bigger than the planet. It can't play God)," said lawyer Marichu Lambino of the UP College of Mass Communications.

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Streaming platforms are considered as property under law and if the MTRCB wants to challenge content, it should do so before the courts, Lambino told TeleRadyo.

"Kailangan bantayan yun. Hindi titigil sa video streaming apps. Ang mga apps, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, lahat yan may kakayahang mag-stream ng videos, lahat yan ay ireregulate at irerestrict ng MTRCB (We need to watch that closely. It will not stop with video streaming apps. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can also stream videos. All of that can also be regulated and restricted by the MTRCB)," she said.

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Citing the handicap of current laws, MTRCB legal affairs division chief, Jonathan Presquito told senators: "Stream services like Netflix are video on demand platforms. We have to regulate those platforms. We have to ensure that those materials being shown on those platforms are compliant with MTRCB laws."

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"Kailangan pag-isipan natin yan (We have to think it through)... It's either we update our laws to catch up with technology or we enforce our archaic laws and hold back technological progress," said Sen. Koko Pimentel.

Netflix is booming around the world, including the Philippines, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces millions to stay at home and either work or binge-watch. It has also become a popular distribution platform for Filipino movies with movie theaters still shut.

Lambino said this shift to streaming could have motivated the MTRCB to seek legal authority to regulate internet platforms. Several lawyers told Summit Media that its authority could not extend to the internet.

A former member of the MTRCB Appeals Committee, lawyer Lesley Cordero, said that when Poe headed the board, it was hard pressed to find a way to regulate the internet.

A Marcos-era Presidential Decree that created the MTRCB specified its powers over movie prints, TV, firm and trailers. It did not include the internet which was non-existent at that time, Cordero said. Only Congress can undo a presidential decree, she said.

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The MTRCB also cannot regulate content on cable, said mass media lawyer Sandy Olaso-Coronel. Should lawmakers extend the agency's reach to the internet and cable, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide on its constitutionality.

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