Rightful access to audio-visual content

In my Southeast Asian travels, I have seen Pinoy serials televised in Myanmar, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

My recent trip to South Korea has brought my passion for kimchi, samgyeopsal, and K-dramas to new heights. It would be a granted wish if I could meet the lead star of ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo,’ a certified Netflix hit. The legal drama reminded me that during the enhanced community quarantine, many Filipino households turned to Korean entertainment to cope with the pandemic-induced distress and boredom.

But upon returning home, news broke out that Senator Jinggoy Estrada had thoughts of banning Korean dramas on domestic television. Good thing the Gentleman from San Juan immediately clarified that he would not file any measure to that effect. He also urged the public to patronize more locally-produced shows.

Prior restraint on freedom of expression

I get the viewpoint of my Senator-friends Estrada and Robin Padilla. In my Southeast Asian travels, I have seen Pinoy serials televised in Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia. In the marketplace of creative ideas, our telenovelas can compete against popular Korean series. We have some of the world’s best thespians and filmmakers, so this is unsurprising.

From a legal standpoint, however, legislating a ban on a television show is tantamount to a constitutional infraction. Our Bill of Rights stipulates that no law should abridge our freedom of expression, which encompasses motion pictures and television shows. Any chilling effect therewith is frowned upon by our Constitution. This prohibition also clips the legal authority of the Motion and Television Ratings and Classification Board regarding censorship.

In the United States, meanwhile, the Supreme Court had struck down anti-obscenity laws that render prior restraint on internet pornographic sites. In Reno versus American Civil Liberties Union, the High Court cited First Amendment protection in ruling that the internet is a free speech zone. It declared that the US government cannot restrict a person’s access to words and images such as pornographic materials on the Internet.

I understand why Filipinos are enamored with “Hallyu,” which refers to exported Korean pop culture products that have swept the globe. The ‘Korean invasion’ started at the turn of the millennium with dubbed dramas like Dae Jang Geum and Jumong. In recent years, films like ‘Train to Busan’ and the Oscar-winning ‘Parasite,’ series like ‘Squid Games’ and ‘Crash Landing on You,’ along with K-Pop have become pop cultural staples worldwide.

The creators and content providers bring a fresh yet distinct Korean perspective to their storylines. Nationalistic and patriotic themes suffuse most dramas. The plot tackles social issues like in the case of ‘Attorney Woo.’ Aside from their strong screen presence, most Korean actors give disciplined and heartfelt performances. The production values, particularly in visual and aural orchestration, are top-notch. The producers do not scrimp on the budget because the shows look glossy on TV and streaming platforms.

Cultural economy as a growth engine

The Korean government plays a huge role in the success of Hallyu. In 2019, the Korea Film Council reported that its US$2.2 billion film market attracted 226 million moviegoers. The government also allotted US$13.5 million in funds for smaller production companies and extended tax credits to audio-visual companies. In 2021, KOFIC launched a US$17.8 million stimulus package for the pandemic-hit industry.

To replicate Korea’s success on the commercial and artistic fronts, our government should consider the creative industry as an engine for economic growth. That our cultural economy could be a sunshine sector. Thus, our government should increase film and TV tax credits, rebates, subsidies, and grants.

With more investors producing content for theatrical release, television, or streaming, we have a bigger chance to create Oscar or Emmy-worthy products fit for international distribution. It would also extend an economic lifeline to small industry members like cameramen, make-up artists, talents, and the like.

As for the creative aspect, let us do away with trite love triangle stories. It has been exploited to death since the 1960s. Creative teams should explore themes and plots highlighting our rich culture and history. Invest in films and shows that promote love for our motherland. Or create content that showcases our beautiful destinations.

Let this be a challenge to both our government and the entertainment industry.

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