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First the Taxman, Now Censors Want a Piece of Netflix

Balance growth and regulation.
by Joel Guinto
Sep 3, 2020
Photo/s: Agence France-Presse
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(UPDATE) The Philippines' censors board, MTRCB, told lawmakers Thursday that streaming services such as Netflix need to be regulated, to ensure that it complies with the law. It comes after efforts in Congress to tax the internet giant, alongside similar platforms such as Spotify.

Current laws only allow the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board to review movie and television content, its legal affairs division chief, Jonathan Presquito told a hearing of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship.

"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," he said.

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Presquito said the MTRCB was not seeking "prior review" as what South Korean regulators have over Netflix. "We don't want that kind of review. We want an environment of growth. Let's allow streaming services to flourish, but how do we find the balance?"

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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.

The MTRCB has a long history of clashes with movie producers over what it deemed was too sexy content. In the 1980s, then Chairman Manoling Morato was famous for his tough stand against skin flicks. In the 1990s the agency suggested that sex scenes from Oscar-winning films "Schindler's List" and "The Piano."

A former member of the MTRCB Appeals Committee, lawyer Lesley Cordero, said that when Sen. Grace 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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Moreover, Netflix is a platform which is not enumerated in areas covered by the MTRCB mandate, she said.