Repealing captioning red tape: Caption quotas

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014 11:31am

In the fourth part of our series on red tape repeal, we look at the confusing state of caption quotas for Australian TV, and how they can be simplified to benefit consumers and broadcasters.

Man's right hand holding open scissors over a line of red tape

Quotas for the free-to-air primary channels are based on an 18-hour day (as of 1 July 2014, 100% of programs between 6 am to midnight must be captioned). Quotas for subscription television are based on a 24-hour day, with the levels of captioning for individual channels varying according to genre. The digital multichannels (such as ABC2, SBS2, 7Mate, Go! and Eleven) are treated completely differently. The only programs which must be captioned on them are repeats that were originally captioned for a network’s primary channel.

These inconsistencies are obviously confusing for consumers. The 18-day quota applying to primary channels, which was enshrined in the Broadcasting Services Act in 2012, is a legacy of negotiations which took place between the Australian Human Rights Commission and deaf advocacy organisations in the early 2000s. These resulted in broadcasters agreeing to increase caption levels on programs between 6am and midnight, but no other country has quotas based on an 18-hour day. The different time zones in Australia also cause inconsistences, as a program which needs to be captioned in, for example, WA may not need to be captioned in NSW.

Media Access Australia does not believe that the multichannels should continue to be treated differently. They have been around for a long time now. Broadcasters have been moving popular programs from their primary channels to them, and have been calling for the rules on what they can show on them to be relaxed. And now that digital switchover has been completed, viewers make little distinction between primary channels and multichannels. The requirement to caption repeats is also very difficult to comply with, as there is no simple way of tracking repeats across channels (a subject we will look at more closely in the next part of this series).     

In our document How you can repeal red tape and improve TV captioning, Media Access Australia has argued that caption quotas for all channels should be based on a 24-hour day, just as they are in the US and UK, with initial quotas for multichannels based on their current levels of captioning. This would simplify reporting requirements for free-to-air networks, and be much more comprehensible for consumers.

'How you can repeal red tape and improve TV captioning' is available for download:

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