media industry

MTRCB wants to regulate content on Netflix, other video-on-demand platforms

JC Gotinga
MTRCB wants to regulate content on Netflix, other video-on-demand platforms
All content streamed on video-on-demand platforms are currently unrated, which means they are prohibited, says MTRCB legal chief Jonathan Presquito

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) said it must regulate content made available in the Philippines on video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, iFlix, and Amazon Prime if it is to fulfill its mandate under the law.

Any motion picture – films, TV shows, even advertisements – falls under the MTRCB’s jurisdiction, said Jonathan Presquito, the agency’s legal affairs chief.

The problem with regulating foreign-owned video-on-demand platforms is they operate their businesses in the Philippines even without physical offices in the country.

To regulate a business, it must first register with government agencies.

“How can you require Netflix to register with the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), to obtain a mayor’s permit, kung wala siya dito (if it’s not here)?” Presquito told a Senate panel during a hearing on proposed measures on online transactions.

So far, all content streamed by the likes of Netflix are unrated by the MTRCB.

“Under the MTRCB law, those are prohibited materials. You cannot distribute that in the Philippine territory,” Presquito said.

Registering video-on-demand services with the MTRCB and subsequent regulation would ensure films and shows are given age-appropriate classifications, no prohibited content will be shown, and everything will be sourced from their authorized distributors, he added.

Not that the agency wants to disrupt audiences’ viewing pleasure.

“In Korea, all Netflix content goes through prior review, and we don’t want that kind of regulation here in the Philippines,” he said.

“We want an environment of growth. Let’s allow these streaming services to flourish. But how to balance that with the regulatory mechanism?” Presquito added.

Because of this, the MTRCB sought the Senate panel’s guidance on how to set about regulating video-on-demand platforms.

An ‘existential question’ for the MTRCB

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who authored a bill to set guidelines on online businesses, noted the disruption the internet has brought about – and how conventional measures are unable to keep up with the changes.

“Movies just come to our TV sets. These companies are selling straight to our homes. The bill’s goal is to update our regulatory environment, update our laws to somehow protect consumers,” Gatchalian said.

That includes Filipino children watching Netflix, he added. The old system of rating movies at cinemas is no longer enough – especially with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home.

However, the bill under consideration only covers selling and buying online content. Rating them would require a separate law, Gatchalian said.

Senator Imee Marcos recommended a separate law on digital media itself. She noted that countries around the world are “having trouble” governing livestreaming.

“As we remain in lockdown because of this pandemic, the reality is, the creatives are getting ever more creative about putting pirated and even legal material online,” Marcos said.

Marcos also recommended standalone laws on digital services and payment portals; Gatchalian’s bill has online-sold tangible goods covered.

“Let’s delineate properly,” Marcos added.

With no clear answers for the MTRCB, Senator Koko Pimentel, who heads the committee on trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship, said the agency should be “actively involved” in the drafting of the Internet Transactions Bill.

“It is also an existential problem for the MTRCB. Puwedeng lumabas ngayon na hindi na kayo kailangan. Tandaan ‘nyo ‘yan ha? (It might turn out that you’re no longer needed. Remember that, alright?)Pimentel teased Presquito. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.