MTRCB in quandary over content classification in video streaming platforms

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has urged the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to exercise prudence in classifying movies and contents being streamed on different platforms, including online streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Gatchalian made the call as he expressed concern that many Filipinos may easily access movies with themes showing excessive violence, vulgarity, and sexual content through these video streaming platforms without proper classification and regulation.

“The MTRCB rates films and TV shows that come out in movie theaters and in television. But now, there are new technologies — Netflix, Apple TV — and I know for a fact that there are some apps that also show movies and other shows. So how do you keep up with technology in MTRCB?” the lawmaker asked during the hearing of the MTRCB’s budget for 2020.

“This becomes sort of like a loophole for our regulators to look at. I just want to bring that on the table so that the board can discuss how to transition in today’s 21st century distribution channel,” he said.

To illustrate his point, Gatchalian cited the case of drama-crime horror movie “Eerie” which is now streaming on Netflix. The movie, which was produced and released by Star Cinema, touches on the sensitive issue of mental health with the protagonist investigating the death of a student who supposedly committed suicide in her school.

Gatchalian expressed concern that movies like Eerie may contribute to the romanticization of mental illness, especially now that mental health has become a pressing concern in the country.

Furthermore, the senator said there are groups, such as The Youth for Mental Health Coalition, which expressed concern over the recent release of local film Eerie due to its very graphic portrayals of self-harm and suicide.

“I really think that mental health is a prevailing and an increasing concern in our country. And it’s now cascading all the way to our schools, all the way to basic education,” Gatchalian said.

“Even teenagers are experiencing mental health conditions right now and we don’t want to aggravate the situation by allowing films that can inadvertently create issues on mental health to be easily accessible to the youth without the proper warning to parents or guardians. I just want to make this a conversation in the board,” he added.

Gatchalian further said the MTRCB should look into including in its criteria for rating and classification the effect of the movie or television content on the mental health of the audience.

MTRCB chairperson Maria Rachel Arenas, for her part, said she recognizes that the law is silent on whether the board has jurisdiction over the Internet, especially when the law limits them to both movie and television materials.

Furthermore, most of these video-streaming platforms are registered outside the Philippines, making it difficult for the MTRCB to adopt its rating system.

“The difference is, of course, their law is different from us. I think what I understand is they outsource the reviewers which we cannot do. So we told them during our meeting that they should adopt our rating system,” Arenas pointed out.

“If we amend the law, maybe we can have more reviewers and allow outsourcing or add to our board members so that we can review all these materials,” she said.

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