By DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
N.B. – A campus journalist interviewed me on the proposal of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to regulate video-streaming sites like Netflix. These are my answers.
Is it MTRCB’s job to regulate platforms like Netflix? If so, why do you think they are implementing it just now?
Established in 1985 through Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1986, the MTRCB is an imposition by the late dictator. During that time, it was supposed to be a transitional body that would facilitate self-regulation in film and television.
Thirty-five years later, MTRCB is still around. Media self-regulation is not just weakened but is also compromised by the weaponization of laws and the bureaucracy. The move to regulate video-streaming sites like Netflix should be seen in the context of draconian measures to (1) monitor media production work (FDCP); (2) deny the franchise of ABS-CBN (NTC, HOR); (3) convict Rappler’s Maria Ressa and Rey Santos, Jr of cyber-libel (RTC); (4) confiscate copies of Pinoy Weekly for allegedly being subversive (PNP); and (5) engage in red-baiting of certain media groups, including campus journalists (NTF-ELCAC).
Even if there are administration allies who also criticize MTRCB’s apparent attempt to broaden its mandate, it cannot be denied that Duterte is the primary enabler of the government machinery to control media content. His tirades against Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler (especially during the 2017 SONA) have been interpreted by many government officials as “marching orders” to harass and intimidate not just the practice of journalism but also other media-related sectors like entertainment.
In your opinion, should Netflix really need to be regulated? Why or why not?
There should be no attempt to regulate video-streaming services like Netflix because the Internet already has several layers of filtering that can be done by clients/subscribers and service providers. Just like in other forms of media, online media or digital media should be self-regulated. Any attempt by government to regulate media content would be a violation of the constitutional provision that prohibits abridging the people’s basic freedoms.
Do we see any politically-motivated nuances, agenda in this proposal?
The attempt to single out Netflix reminds us of how the government handled the denial of franchise of ABS-CBN, not to mention the pending cases against Rappler. MTRCB can always claim that the proposal to regulate video-streaming sites is not related to these issues. But the context should be clear to those who know the origins of MTRCB and how it has functioned as a censorship body in the guise of review and classification.
If permitted to do so, what do you think will be its implication to the wide Filipino audiences patronizing the unhampered contents in the platform before?
Choices shall be limited to what the MTRCB wants. We should recall that there had been many films in the past that the MTRCB tried to block that turned out to be critically acclaimed, if not award-winning – Schindler’s List, The Piano, Bridges of Madison County, to name a few. Locally, the film Dukot (Desaparecidos) was initially given an X rating for its political content, and it was only when the picture of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was covered in one scene that it got an R-13 rating. These are just examples of how “review” and “classification” have been misused and abused (even weaponized) through the years.
Do you think that this is a media, content freedom issue?
This is definitely a media freedom issue. Ten years ago, I argued that MTRCB should be abolished in an essay that is included in my latest book Obhetibong Kritisismo (UPD Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, 2019). I still maintain that advocacy.
Are there media, entertainment-related laws that this proposal might violate?
A lawyer would be in a better position to discuss legal implications. Suffice it to say that the MTRCB’s IRR clearly states that it “shall review and classify motion pictures, television programs and related promotion materials and commercials for TV and cinema, applying as general standard contemporary Filipino cultural values.” From a Media Studies perspective, MTRCB is violating its own mandate to focus only on film and television and is trying to extend its influence online. That it tries to have its own interpretation of the already nebulous term “contemporary Filipino cultural values” makes it worst.