Private sector should take charge of classifying online films: experts

By Hoang Thuy   October 20, 2021 | 06:17 am PT
Experts have proposed cinema authorities allow some enterprises to adopt classification services for online movies.

At a meeting about the Law on Cinema last week, Nguyen Quang Dong - director of the Institute for Policy Studies and Media Development, proposed to let the private sector participate in movie classification. According to him, with the current law, the classification process means to license each film, which is not feasible since the number of movies on the Internet is too large.

The regulation creates a huge amount of work for authorities, and at the same time limits the development of online movies. If a movie was released overseas and cinema authorities have not watched and censored it yet, local businesses will be slow in releasing it to make revenues, while audiences may watch pirated movies.

Dong said: "There is a similar model called the notary service. In the past, only state-owned agencies could notarize documents. But after that, private notary services were allowed and are now effective."

He proposed to empower organizations and associations working in the field of cinema or television stations to classify online releases. Authorities will issue operating licenses, so these agencies could work with movie platforms and be responsible for labeling and classifying content.

A still from Squid Game, a South Korean series that has been popular among Vietnamese netizens in the last few weeks. Photo courtesy of Netflix

A still from "Squid Game", a South Korean series that has been popular among Vietnamese netizens since Sept. 2021. Photo courtesy of Netflix

At this time, National Film Council would only deal with disagreements among agencies and platforms. If an enterprise makes a wrong classification, for example, labeling a movie supposed for adults as a teenager film, the council would intervene.

In fact, businesses tend to maximize profits to attract an audience, so Dong emphasized the need for sanctions to handle violators.

For example, the law needs to stipulate that those making mistakes ten times will have their licenses revoked.

"The movie classification service on the Internet can go through a transition like this, instead of going straight to the stage when producers are allowed to classify their own products like in Singapore and Australia," Dong said.

In parallel with the above solution, he also suggested building an online tool for users to conveniently report violations, as Singapore is doing. In this way, streaming services must have community standards to distinguish accounts for adults and children.

Many experts agreed that the government should only check movie classification from agencies instead of classifying themselves. Fraser Thompson, CEO of consulting firm AlphaBeta, said Singapore lets producers classify films to reduce the burden on state management agencies as thousands of movies are released every day.

He suggested Vietnam refer to international standards when developing the draft Law on Cinema. Self-classification with standardized criteria is an efficient approach that is more in tune with industry development. For example, video on demand (VOD) businesses across ASEAN have jointly developed a censorship mechanism to ensure safe and appropriate content.

Le Thi Phuong Thao, managing director of Thaole Entertainment, said when distributors buy foreign films, producers and partners had already classified and labeled the films.

"I also have young children, so I think children only use their own accounts. Parents should also be responsible for their children's viewing instead of giving all the responsibility to classification agencies."

Vice Chairman of the Committee for Culture and Education under the National Assembly Phan Viet Luong, said that letting agencies classify movies is a trend in many countries, and it should work for the current reality in Vietnam, having a large number of movies on the Internet while cinema authorities have limited capacity. However, this also creates the risk of allowing films that violate the law and are not suitable for Vietnamese culture, creating an unfair environment.

Therefore, the committee proposed a combination of post- and pre-classification. This means that movies could be classified by private agencies, but those having an adverse effect on politics, ideology, national defense, and security, etc. must be classified by cinema authorities.

On Sept. 14, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Van Hung presented the draft Law on Cinema (amended) to National Assembly Standing Committee, offering two solutions on the classification of online movies. The first option: distributors classify and take responsibility, while authorities post-check. In the second option, movies are shown when there is a classification permit issued by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, provincial People's Committee or press agencies that have licenses to operate radio, television, and show movies on the Internet.

The Law on Cinema was passed by the 11th National Assembly on June 29, 2006. The Law amending and supplementing a number of articles of the Law on Cinema was approved by the 12th National Assembly on June 18, 2009. After more than 14 years of implementation, the revised Law on Cinema will be voted on by the 15th National Assembly at its third session, taking place on May 2022.

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