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What a pong for de Carnival?
This vexing issue seems to stalk the land with the advent of every Carnival. Appropriate debate over Carnival copyright issues always seems drowned out by the more easily digestible: “Look gyul! Bunji and Fay Ann now drup outta de Sokah Mow-nak!” “Yeah gyul, dem is rell coolant yes!” The outrage over the absence of coverage of the Panorama semi-finals was palpable. Wheelchair-bound pensioners were robbed of an opportunity to hear sweet pan in the Savannah from the comfort of their homes.
It seems that members of the public believe the images coming through their televisions appear on the screens through some mysterious sorcery. The broadcast of the pan semi-finals was one such instance. Members of the public aren’t interested in the minutiae of negotiations for rights to cover Carnival events; all they know is when “dey turn on de set, pan beatin’.”
I hold no brief for CNMG; God knows I’ve had my own battles with the state television station in the past, but let’s look at the facts. Many of us would like to see pan in the Queen’s Park Savannah and mas on de road on the telly and away from the madding crowd.
The television station must pay considerable sums of money (amounting to hundreds of thousands I am sure) to the fraternities representing pan, calypso and mas: Pan Trinbago, Tuco and the NCBA. Additionally, as part of the negotiations, these organisations demand primetime advertising on the state television station, displacing advertising in those slots which would ordinarily earn the station money.
Here’s the kicker, though: the Government funded these fraternities to the tune of approximately $150 million, and they then turned around and are charging the same State which funded them to cover the events.
CNMG is also hamstrung by another crucial factor; recovery of the investment is absolutely impossible. Any advertising revenue to be extracted from the major players in the corporate community has already been exhausted—out on the road. The larger companies put their money into fete sponsorships where their products have direct contact with their consumers.
Banners, fete in de square, contracts for artists, contracts for Carnival bands to pass out rum receptacles with their logos emblazoned on them, signage-draped music trucks, the stupid flag you wave over your head—the companies are taking their advertising juggernaut directly to the masses.
By the time CNMG gets to them, the feeding frenzy is almost at an end. The companies are only able to toss the station a few coppers.
For any television station in T&T, Carnival is a financial black hole. TV6 and CNC3 don’t catch the same flak that CNMG does because there is an expectation that the state television station has an obligation to provide coverage. The private stations have never made a secret of the fact that, given the exorbitant costs associated with Carnival (licensing and coverage), they have absolutely no interest in this loss-making venture.
There is another dimension to this issue of licensing. Some photographers have recently made the horrifying discovery that they can be charged as much as $10,000 for a commercial licence to take pictures at NCC venues. The fee is even higher for foreigners.
As multi-media expert and veteran photographer Mark Lyndersay points out in his blog, the Carnival interest groups seem not to have an understanding of the term “commercial use.” Apart from the arbitrary nature of this figure, a photographer, having paid the fee can, in theory, use this material for any commercial purpose—billboards, magazines and so on. Yet the licensing arrangement seeks to limit use to a local context.
Furthermore, while the designers seek to protect their intellectual property through this wobbly measure, no consideration is given to the masquerader. Perhaps the masqueraders are also entitled to a cut from the fees extracted from hapless photographers, given that they are the live mannequins displaying the designs.
As always, we are blind to the bigger picture. A Toronto-based Trini photojournalist recently vented online that he has long since given up his annual coverage of Carnival in this country with the onset of an “enhanced” licensing regime. Working for a newspaper in Canada with free circulation, he was, on principle, opposed to the application of a fee to provide coverage which is actually free marketing for T&T.
In fact, he indicated that travel agencies in Toronto often reported a spike in bookings for Carnivals subsequent to the release of the Carnival issue. The more important point here is that the Carnival fraternities are seeking to extract pennies from photographers who take their pictures of T&T Carnival to the world and attract millions more from future visitors to these shores. That is Trini myopia at its finest.
It is time that Carnival interest groups stop fumbling at the commerce of this festival like virgins and do their homework. The pathetic scramble for cash is shortsighted; we have to stop selling Carnival like ponkin and become savvier in the marketing of this incredibly important festival.
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