Draft Broadcasting Services (Television Captioning) Standard 2013

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1 A submission to the Australian Communications and Media Authority on its Draft Broadcasting Services (Television Captioning) Standard January 2013 Organisations supporting this submission: Deaf Victoria Arts Access Victoria Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association Australian Federation of Disability Organisations Deaf Society of NSW WA Deaf Society Deaf Children Australia Deaf Can:Do, The Royal South Australian Deaf Society Inc Vicdeaf Tasdeaf Deaf Services Queensland 22 January P a g e

2 Introduction Deaf Australia appreciates the opportunity to comment on the draft Broadcasting Services (Television Captioning) Standard Deaf Australia represents Deaf people whose primary or preferred language is Auslan. Access to information is a key priority for our members. Information is essential for everyone and, irrespective of whether the person is deaf or hearing, is a fundamental human right. For people who are deaf, this fundamental right is enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which the Australian government has ratified. Deaf Australia commends the Australian Government for taking the initiative to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to increase the quantity of captioning on television and require reasonable captioning quality standards. In so doing, government has recognised the important role that television captioning plays in the lives of many Australians. It is generally expected that good quality sound and pictures are shown at each and every broadcast of a program. Viewers who need captions in order to have access to the sound track have the same expectations for the captions. They expect captions to be of a consistently high quality, with the caption format appropriate to the type of program. In response to the draft Broadcasting Services (Television Captioning) Standard 2013 and the accompanying consultation paper about the draft Standard, Deaf Australia would like to highlight key issues and concerns which we believe need to be addressed if the Standard is to provide meaningful assistance to the ACMA in ensuring that adequate captioning quality is achieved. Key issues: 1. The draft Standard and consultation paper have not been made available in Auslan. This has meant that Deaf people whose primary or preferred language is Auslan have had limited access to the documents and have not been enabled to provide responses to it. Deaf people who use Auslan are primary consumers of television captions. As such they have a direct interest in the draft Standard. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically states in Article 21 Freedom of Expression and opinion, and access to information: b. Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions. The ACMA is an Australian Government authority. As such, it has an obligation to ensure that all Deaf people who use Auslan are able to access information and participate in its public consultations by providing information in Auslan. Deaf Australia requests that in future, all information provided for the public, and most certainly information about captioning and other issues that directly affect Deaf people, be made available in Auslan as well as English. 2. The draft Standard requires that captions be readable, accurate and comprehensible in order to be meaningful. 22 January P a g e

3 Each of these terms are very broad, very vague and open to such subjective interpretation as to be meaningless as measures or assessment tools. While each term is followed by descriptions of factors that must be taken into account, the draft Standard contains no specific metric measures and thus gives broadcasters and consumers only limited information about what ACMA considers to be reasonable measures of captioning quality and how ACMA will actually apply the Standard. We note that ACMA has decided not to include metric targets or to specify how particular types of programs should be captioned (i.e. pre-prepared block captions or live scrolling captions). This is extremely disappointing for captioning consumers and renders the Standard almost meaningless for consumers. We also note that ACMA in its discussion paper states: setting separate requirements for the quality of live and pre-prepared captions is not helpful in achieving the objective that the captioning service should be meaningful to viewers, regardless of the captioning process. Most of the current problems with captioning quality relate to live scrolling captions. Deaf consumers accept that programs that are genuinely live, e.g. live sports events, can only be captioned live. However, many programs that are not genuinely live or are only partly live (e.g. news and current affairs) are currently being captioned live even though it is possible to caption most if not all of the program with pre-prepared block captions and use live captioning only for segments that are genuinely live (e.g. live updates during news programs). The use of pre-prepared block captions for all programs except programs and segments of programs that are genuinely live would resolve most of the current captioning quality problems. During consultation meetings which Deaf Australia attended prior to the development of the draft Standard, broadcasters claimed that because more programs are now being delivered very close to their broadcast time, this makes live captioning of these programs essential. Deaf Australia does not accept this argument. Turn-around times for captions have always been tight for many programs since captioning began. This issue would not arise if captioning suppliers were adequately staffed. Deaf Australia does not accept that consumers should have to suffer poor quality live captions so that caption suppliers and broadcasters can make savings on staff costs. Deaf Australia strongly believes that all programs (with the exception of genuinely live programs such as live sport events and genuinely live segments of programs such as live updates in news programs) should be required to have pre-recorded block captions. Further, Deaf Australia strongly believes that when live captioning is essential, it must be subject to metric standards for accuracy and timing. In particular, an acceptable time lag target is essential. When captions consistently lag more than 5 seconds behind the picture, they are as incomprehensible as captions with consistently high error rates. 3. The draft Standard repeatedly makes references to in the context of the program as a whole. It is not clear what this means. Does this mean that, for example, if a section of a program has incomprehensible captions but the remainder of the program s captions are comprehensible, then the incomprehensible section is acceptable? Deaf Australia seeks clarification of the meaning of in the context of the program as a whole and how it will be applied. 22 January P a g e

4 4. Deaf Australia notes and commends ACMA on the inclusion of important measurable quality provisions outlined in sections 7, 8 and 9 of the draft Standard. We note that section 7b(i) refers to whether colour and font is used in the captions in a way that makes them legible, but makes no reference to the need for captions to be on a solid background that contrasts with the colour of the captions to make them readable. Deaf Australia recommends that 7b(1) be amended to require captions to be on a solid background. 5. As captioning quota targets are being phased in to 100% of all programs between 6.00am and midnight by 1 July 2014, it is unclear whether these Standards, which apply from 28 June 2013 (or earlier) will apply to all programs broadcast with captions or only to prime time programs until after 1 July Deaf Australia expects that, once this Standard comes into effect, captioned programs will comply with the Standard irrespective of when the programs are broadcast; and recommends that ACMA make it clear that the Standard will apply to all captioned programs regardless of broadcast time. Deaf Australia also wishes to raise the following issues, which although not specifically part of the captioning quality draft Standard, are part of ACMA s brief on television captioning regulation: 6. Captioning targets are problematic: a. On subscription television, it has been our observation that the majority of captioned programs are with premium packages and basic packages have fewer captioned programs. This discriminates against caption users, requiring them to subscribe to more expensive packages in order to have access to subscription TV programs; b. It is not clear to consumers whether ACMA will accept complaints about the lack of captions on non-news and current affairs programs outside of prime time before the 100% 6.00am to midnight captioning requirement begins in July Deaf Australia recommends that: subscription television caption targets, as a minimum, must be targeted to basic subscription packages; ACMA make it clear to consumers how ACMA will decide if they will accept complaints about the lack of captions on non-news and current affairs programs outside of prime time between now and July Deaf Australia is concerned that the consultation paper and draft standard make no reference to the complaint process. We note that information about complaints is provided on the ACMA website. However, there are issues with the process as described there. In particular: a. Consumers need to make complaints differently for different broadcasters, e.g. for commercial broadcasters they may complain directly to ACMA but for the ABC and SBS they must complain first to the broadcaster before complaining to ACMA. This adds confusion and complexity to already complex issues. 22 January P a g e

5 b. ACMA s complaints process is investigation based. This approach is slow and unsuitable for many types of captioning complaints. Many complaints are technical issues that need to be notified to the broadcasters quickly to prevent the continuation of such, usually easily fixed, problems. Deaf Australia strongly objects to a complaints process that results in consumers suffering ongoing poor quality captions while ACMA investigates when a quick solution is possible. c. A captioning problem affects many people and ACMA is highly likely to receive many complaints about the same issue on the same program. Deaf Australia can envision a scenario where ACMA could be inundated with a large number of complaints about the same issues, which could overwhelm and clog up its investigation based complaints system. Deaf Australia recommends that there be one standard complaints process for all broadcasters; the complaints process be transparent and included in the Standard; the complaints process be flexible enough to deal effectively and efficiently with different types of problems; the complaints process must be clearly explained to consumers in various formats including Auslan; the complaints process include a mechanism for ACMA to provide public updates to consumers on complaints received and in progress so that consumers are aware when ACMA is already investigating (and what they have already done with) an issue they wish to complain about. Further, Deaf Australia recommends that ACMA work with Media Access Australia to establish a complaints process that deals effectively and efficiently with various types of complaints. 8. There is no information on how ACMA intends to police captioning quotas. Deaf Australia expects all broadcasters (free to air and subscription) to provide ongoing compliance reports that include performance (including full lists of captioned programs), number and type of complaints (both completed and unresolved) and number and type of breaches. Deaf Australia believes that consumers expect that if a network has consistently breached the caption quality Standard, ACMA will take action against the network and information about this action will be made publicly available. Conclusion: Deaf Australia appreciates the Australian Government s commitment to improvements in quantity and quality of television captioning. We also appreciate the work that ACMA has done on developing the draft Standard. 22 January P a g e

6 Deaf and hard of hearing consumers rely on captioning for their television viewing and poor quality captioning is as bad as no captioning. Consumers expect reasonable Standards that are objectively measurable, and fair and efficient complaints and compliance processes. This is what any reasonable Australian would expect of a service. We strongly believe that the draft Standard and other matters as outlined in this submission need further work before they meet reasonable consumer expectations and we strongly urge the ACMA to reconsider its decisions in particular about metric quality targets and captioning methods. Deaf Australia would be pleased to continue to work with the ACMA to reach Standards and processes that meet consumer needs and expectations. For further information please contact: Karen Lloyd, AM Executive Officer Deaf Australia 22 January P a g e

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