Seares: ‘Monopolizing’ Sinulog coverage; what Mayor Labella’s veto showed

Pachico A. Seares

FIRST, it was not a “monopoly” of MyTV, a Cebu-based cable company. The so-called exclusive coverage the Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) granted to MyTV was limited to taking video and television footage at the “grand stage” at the Cebu City Sports Complex and only during the culminating activity this Sunday. Besides, there was no ban on the use of such material provided the user would credit MyTV.

Second, Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella who derailed the SFI’s move didn’t say he, as chairman of the Sinulog Governing Board (SGB), “vetoed” it. Announcing Wednesday afternoon (Jan. 15) that the “exclusivity” contract wouldn’t be enforced, Labella was generously gracious to say that SFI and MyTV agreed not to enforce the contract.

Notice to networks

Earlier, published parts of a Jan. 13 letter from SFI president Pericles Dakay to ABS-CBN Cebu and GMA 7 Cebu disclosed the agreement between SFI and MyTV. What made it sound forbidding was this provision: All others—media, private persons and companies—are excluded from the grand stage coverage except with the consent of MyTV. A meme brandishing the word “MONOPOLY” soon began to appear in social media posts and messages.

In sum, as clearer heads read it, the restriction would’ve been limited to the “grand stage” activity, specifically the closing program on Jan. 19, and only video and TV coverage, probably streaming included but not still photos.

First reaction

Rewind to Monday and Tuesday, after the news of the exclusion policy broke and before the mayor announced the veto:

Immediate concern or interest at the time, prompted by the novelty of the restriction, was whether it would restrict coverage on social media. Even if they wanted to, they could not. We cannot police social media, MyTV manager Bobit Avila was quoted last Tuesday. The two networks, an SFI official reportedly said, had reached an agreement with MyTV, primarily on the free use of their material provided they credit MyTV on the video clip. The networks, used to pool coverage arrangements, could live with the limitation.

Question on future policy

So now all is well. As the mayor repeated more than once in Wednesday’s press-con at City Hall: “There is no exclusivity. Every media (outlet) can cover. There’s no condition on the use of video taken at the grand stage.”

But the hard question remains, for future decisions by the mayor or anyone else calling the shots at City Hall: How could restriction of media coverage of the Sinulog, a purely people’s event, be justified?

SFI apparently was attracted by the money it would raise from an exclusive contract on media coverage of the Sinulog. One official said like, “It’s being done, we at Sinulog just didn’t do it before.”

It’s done in sports

Exclusive media coverage of private events owned and organized by private enterprise—such as concerts, dances, festivals, and the like—is usually contracted. More so in sports where the big money is. Some sports generate large media audiences; that’s where the exclusive-coverage contract is a must. It is to safeguard “costly investments in TV sports events” and to “recognize and reward entrepreneurial efforts in contribution to the diffusion of information and culture.”

Media coverage of boxing, basketball, football and the like is monetized in “sponsorship contracts” between the event organizer and media organization, so why not Sinulog, too, thought the SFI, as its additional source of income, this time from media which also profits from the coverage.

Sinulog is different

The difference is that the Sinulog street parade or mardi gras—a cultural event spun off from the religious fiesta—is purely a public event. Its owner or source of franchise, if you use business terms of reference, is the people.

Probably the reason the Cebu City Government spends millions of pesos a year on the Sinulog dance competition and the reason it “meddles” with the private sector in its management by creating a governing board as oversight on the private group SFI.

Without waving it in the air, Mayor Labella, in rejecting the marketing practice of exclusive media coverage, seemed to say “See, it works” to Vice Mayor Mike Rama and others who questioned why the mayor created a governing board to oversee the Sinulog Foundation.

In fairness to Rama, the vice mayor also condemned the exclusive-coverage deal, saying Sinulog is for the people. The mayor can dance to that.